Movie Review: The Sensei

Ever rent a movie expecting one thing, and get something totally different? A movie that you perhaps had low expectations for that surpassed your initial thoughts and blew you out of the water? The Sensei is one such movie.

From Netflix: After punks at school hand him a savage beating, gay teen McClain Evans (Michael O’Laskey II) secretly begins martial arts training with Karen O’Neil (director Diana Lee Inosanto), a woman who has her own axe to grind with the narrow-minded rural community. But as Evans learns to stand up to prejudice and hate, the boy and his sensei unleash a firestorm of controversy in their small Colorado town.

When I rented this DVD, my thought was precisely this: Oh, a gay karate kid movie, awesome! I loved Karate Kid in all of its incarnations, and I love movies with gay characters, so I thought it would be perfect. I figured it would be low budget but that didn’t bother me. When the film started, I thought it was going to be cheesy. But once an older McClain starts to tell the story and goes back eight years to how his life changed and essentially began, I was swept away.

Set primarily during 1985, the story is about gay teen McClain who is savagely between by town homophobes in the school locker room. He has been trying to get lessons from the local martial arts studio but is turned away. Enter the studio owner’s female family member who has been gone many years. After a plea from McClain’s mother, she agrees to teach him, to give him a fighting chance.

It’s not perfect. McClain is still tormented by bullies both young and old, and the sensei, Karen, has her own demons to confront. In one particularly hard scene, both Karen and McClain are bleeding from an attack and she shys away from him, not wanting to be touched. This is where the twist comes in.

At this point in history, the AIDs crisis is huge. It was considered a gay disease and many people thought they could catch it just from touching someone gay. Obviously today we know this is different, just as we know it can affect anyone and everyone.

This movie takes preconceived notions and stereotypes and throws most of them out the door. The end is so heartbreaking and beautiful it left me crying and speechless for several minutes. I was absolutely blown away.

I am so glad I thought so little of this film at first, because it showed me just how beautiful and surprising some things can be. It has gone from a one time chance rental to a movie I will be buying for my shelves. Trust me. Take the chance and rent this. You won’t regret it.

Book Review: Sara by Greg Herren

Are you one of those people who often can guess the endings of books or solve the mystery before everyone in the book even has all the clues? Because the book is often that predictable?

Fear not. This book will leave you guessing until the end, and when all is revealed, you will be blown away.

Sara by Greg Herren is the story of Tony and his friend, Glenn. When Glenn decides to come out during the summer before school starts, Tony stands by him, but finds it difficult to accept the change. Nevertheless, he remains a friend and when others turn their back on Glenn, he stays by his side. Despite feeling uneasy about his friends newly revealed sexuality. When Sara shows up in town, things start to go very, very wrong. All the students who have tormented Glenn start showing up dead. One after another they die, and Tony starts to wonder what is happening in their small town.

This book was incredible. It is a mystery that will stay with you until the very last page, but it does have supernatural/paranormal elements at times. After all, why do these kids start to die? How is it possible?

I don’t want to ruin anything by saying to much, because the story is just that good. Go read it for yourself. I will, however, say that I loved the characters. Even the teachers are fantastic. When coach gives a speech to Tony about trusting teachers, and the reasons people become a teacher, I felt as if the author had taken my words from my mouth and put them in the book. It is the same thing I have said to my students time and time again. The reason I teach is because I care, and I want to help.

But I see Tony’s view, too. Teachers are often thought of as “untouchable.” I also can’t tell you how many times my students have seen me outside of school and are shocked that I actually emerge from the building to live a life outside of my classroom.

Let’s talk about Tony. He is a fantastic narrator because of how honest he is. And I found his discomfort around Glenn to be realistic. Though there are many people who stand by their friends when they come out, it’s not unreasonable that some of them do feel uncomfortable around them for a while because of the changes and the potential fear that they will have to face whatever prejudices the friend faces. And Glenn’s hurt at Tony’s slight rebuff is also realistic. If Tony is such a good friend, he shouldn’t care, should he?

This is a book that needs to be read. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

This book is available for purchase at Bold Strokes Books and Amazon.