Letter from Masanjia [movie review]

Letter from Masanjia is a powerful documentary about an American who woman finds a letter from a prisoner in a Chinese labour camp in a package from a Halloween decoration. Her discovery sets off a chain reaction, which ends up shutting down the labour camp system in China.

Letter From Masanjia

Letter from Masanjia Social Justice Documentary

Growing up near the ocean, I often imagined discovering a washed-up message in a bottle. But I didn’t ever think the letter would be from someone imprisoned in a labour camp because of his religious beliefs.

The letter Julie Keith discovers in a Made-in-China tombstone decoration was from political prisoner Sun Yi. Held in China’s Masanjia labour camp, Sun Yi’s letter describes how he and the other prisoners are subjected to torture and brainwashing because of their belief in Falun Gong. After verifying the letter and the camp are legitimate, Julie Keith works to find someone who would listen. After several stalled attempts, Sun Yi’s story goes viral.

about falun gong

Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline consisting of meditation and gentle exercises. Its core values are truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. In 1999, when the Chinese Communist Party outlawed Falun Gong, the goal was to eradicate the religion. Human rights groups estimate, at minimum, tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to detention or worse. 

About the filming

Canadian filmmaker Leon Lee learned about Sun Yi when the letter went viral. Known as a Chinese dissident for his human rights work, Leon Lee reached out to his personal network of activists and dissidents in China to find the letter-writer. Three years into his search, the two connected. By this time, Sun Yi was released from the labour camp and eager for his story to reach a wider audience. The two formed a partnership and began filming.

Much of the documentary footage is taken by Sun Yi who learned how to use camera equipment over Skype from Leon Lee. For more than a year, Sun Yi films day-to-day life as a human rights defender in secret on a DSLR and iPhone. After shooting, he compressed and uploaded the footage to an encrypted site. Here, Leon Lee could retrieve the footage from across the Chinese firewall.

This is an incredible story of persecution, courage in the face of intense pressure and commitment to do the right thing no matter the personal cost.

Letter from Masanjia Synopsis

A woman in Oregon discovers an SOS note stashed in a box of Halloween decorations from Kmart. Her story goes viral and leads to the closure of China’s barbaric labour camps. News travels through China’s firewall and reaches the letter-writer, Sun Yi. A former Chinese prisoner who had been jailed for his beliefs, he now fears for his life and his family’s safety. Despite that, he’s determined to expose China’s human rights violations, whatever the cost.

In Letter from Masanjia, Sun Yi teams up with Peabody Award-winning director Leon Lee and takes you inside China’s terrifying police state through the eyes of a political prisoner. He uses hidden cameras to capture details of his torturous past while authorities remain hot on his heels. Letter from Masanjia reveals how the brave actions of a be-speckled engineer in China and a mom in the US led to major changes on the other side of the world.

OFFICIAL Trailer

On December 4, 2018, Letter from Masanjia was released by Gravitas Ventures and is available on iTunes, Amazon, Blu-Ray Disc, DVD, Tugg and Google Play.

Letter from Masanjia is a powerful documentary about an American woman who finds a letter from a prisoner in a Chinese labour camp in a Halloween decoration.

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Little Women (2018) Movie Review

Imagine the Little Women you read (and loved) as a child set in modern-day times. Instead of Mr. March being deployed to the Civil War he’s…deployed overseas.

Instead of Beth becoming sick with scarlet fever and recovering she’s…sick with cancer and goes into remission. Instead of Amy moving to France and marrying Laurie she…moves to France, becomes a crazy-successful painter and hooks up with Laurie. And instead of Jo moving to New York City to allow Laurie and Beth to fall in love (and ends up falling in love herself) she…moves to New York City in search of a book deal (and ends up falling in love herself).

Little Women Review Header

Little Women

So, basically Little Women (the 2018 version) is amazing and although it sticks pretty true to the original story there are enough modernizing tweaks to make the experience the teeniest bit surprising amidst the nostalgic heart bursting and eyes brimming with tears. The. Whole. Movie.

I loved the re-telling and re-imagining of this classic story and I can’t wait to read the book again. In fact, the whole way through the film I was thinking how much I needed to read Little Women again. And Little Men. And Jo’s Boys. Oh, and the others.

Even 150 years after it was written, the story holds up. The love between sisters is timeless—no matter how different they are, theirs is an impenetrable bond.

“I could never love anyone as I love my sisters.”


Louisa May Alcott

On September 28, 2018 Little Women releases in theatres everywhere.


So, basically Little Women (the 2018 version) is amazing and although it sticks pretty true to the original story there are enough modernizing tweaks to make the experience the teeniest bit surprising amidst the nostalgic heart bursting and eyes brimming with tears. The. Whole. Movie.

Little Women synopsis

Sisters—and dreams—are unique in their ability to inspire, encourage and change the world. For 150 years, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has motivated women of all ages to dream together and celebrate family. Coming to theatres for the first time, a modern retelling of Little Women brings a new generation together with their mothers, sisters and friends.

From girls playing in the attic to women living with purpose, the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy—are committed to always supporting each other. Yet, growing up sometimes means growing apart. An aspiring writer, Jo leaves for New York determined to publish a novel. In the wake of rejected draft upon draft, her editor challenges Jo to write about something more interesting—her family. When tragedy brings the sisters back home, sticking together takes on new meaning. As Jo comforts her sick sister, Beth asks for one thing: a story. Jo knows the perfect one…by heart.

On the 150th anniversary of the beloved classic, Little Women, the first-ever modern retelling, brings the same sisters to a new generation to celebrate dreams, family and unconditional love in theatres September 28.

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Extraordinary Movie Review

Here’s what to expect in the Extraordinary movie: The seemingly endless road beckons. Well beyond exhausted, his body trudges onward—quitting is never an option. Aiming toward the finish line of another transcontinental race, he senses his prize this time is much greater than any medal or honour. Every step leads him closer to home.

Extraordinary Movie DVD

Extraordinary Movie Review

I know this looks like a movie about a guy running across the United States. And it is. But it’s also about that guy’s wife. What happens to the family when an ultra-marathoner goes on a months-long race? How do they cope? What happens to their normal? It’s an interesting question.

Although I haven’t seen a running movie before, this was not what I expected. There was a lot of heart. There was the core relationship story between a husband and a wife but there were others at play too—between father and child, teacher and student, runner and runner, and man and God.

Throughout the film I often wondered where the title Extraordinary came from. My first guess was the run itself, but—and I won’t spoil it for you—it’s so much more than just a race. Where Extraordinary comes from, is worth the watch.

Extraordinary releases on DVD and digital January 16, 2018 from Universal Entertainment.

Extraordinary Movie Synopsis

Based on the real-life events of acclaimed ultra-marathoner David Horton and his wife Nancy, Extraordinary is coming to DVD, Digital and On Demand on January 16, 2018, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. An impactful and perfect story for the entire family, the inspirational film stars Shari Rigby (October Baby), Leland Klassen (Altar Egos), Karen Abercrombie (War Room) and Kirk Cameron (Fireproof) and follows Horton as his dream of tackling a nearly 3,000-mile run takes its toll on his body, and brings his marriage to the breaking point.

Based on a true marriage journey, Extraordinary tells the amazing story of ultra-marathon runner and college professor David Horton, his wife, Nancy, and their attempt to finish their marriage race well. Although proud of his incredible athletic accomplishments and the impact he has on his students, David’s family continuously pays a high price for his years of competitive running. Following his open-heart surgery and irreparable damage to his knees, Nancy is ready for Dave to hang up his racing shoes for good and focus his boundless energy on their family. Instead, feeling called by God to “inspire people one last time,” Dave sets off for a 2,900-mile race across America.

Extraordinary Movie DVD and digital bonus features

  • The David Horton Story
  • The Extraordinary Woman Featurette
  • Filmmakers of Extraordinary
  • Keys to an Extraordinary Marriage
Based on a true marriage journey, Extraordinary tells the amazing story of ultra-marathon runner and college professor David Horton, his wife, Nancy, and their attempt to finish their marriage race well. Although proud of his incredible athletic accomplishments and the impact he has on his students, David’s family continuously pays a high price for his years of competitive running. Following his open-heart surgery and irreparable damage to his knees, Nancy is ready for Dave to hang up his racing shoes for good and focus his boundless energy on their family. Instead, feeling called by God to “inspire people one last time,” Dave sets off for a 2,900-mile race across America.

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Broken Mile (2017) [movie review]

Do you love stressful movies? Do you like shows where you follow people around without any clue what’s going on and just hope there’s just a giant misunderstanding that will resolve itself in about 90 minutes? If so Broken Mile may be your jam.

broken mile movie review

Broken Mile

Quick synopsis of Broken Mile: “A drug addict awakens to find the girl he is with is dead, and must rush to escape the consequences. A real-time thriller presented in a single, unbroken take.” There isn’t much more to say about the plot because it doesn’t go deeper. Through Broken Mile we follow drug addict Shaun as he runs from his best friend Kenny, who has a gun. Scary? Scary.

I think what makes this movie interesting is the shooting style—all in one take. I enjoyed following the characters around and switching from one to the other as they’d meet up and separate while roaming downtown Toronto in the rain. The story arc and dialogue aren’t strong. However, I’ll leave it there because the critics rip the movie apart for this. Overall I did enjoy the movie. I didn’t know what was going to happen and did become emotionally invested in the story, even if I disagreed with every decision Shaun made and thought his actions made no sense. Except, well, he was on drugs so…OK then. Whatever.

Additional thoughts

Shooting a movie all in one take would be difficult. I appreciate the ambition of writer/director/producer/director of photography Justin McConnell. This could be a cool first step into the world of gritty action thrillers. If it was a mini series on YouTube I would become obsessed. I’m glad I watched till the end because I got some closure.
Even though my heart was racing the entire time. I mean, at least I understand why everyone is so upset.


Broken Mile synopsis

Broken Mile, told in pulse pounding real-time and presented as a single unbroken take, follows a drug-addict (Francesco Filice) who awakens to find the woman he is with dead, and must rush to escape the consequences. Along the way he enlists the help of his strong-willed ex-girlfriend (Caleigh Le Grand), and avoids confrontation with the gun-toting figure chasing him (Patrick McFadden). The film was produced by McConnell’s company Unstable Ground, in association with Pasha Patriki’s 9 Light Entertainment, and executive producer Andrew van den Houten’s (“Jug Face,” “The Ranger”) 79th & Broadway Entertainment.

Broken Mile began its North American theatrical run July 28th and VOD/Digital/DVD and Blu-Ray release on August 15th, 2017.

Quick synopsis of Broken Mile: A drug addict awakens to find the girl he is with is dead, and must rush to escape the consequences. A real-time thriller presented in a single, unbroken take. There isn't much more to say about the plot because it doesn't go deeper. Through Broken Mile we follow drug addict Shaun as he runs from his best friend Kenny, who has a gun. Scary? Scary.

Other reviews

One more thing. You may be interested in my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

Get Access to My Free Resource Library

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Ben-Hur (2016) [movie review]

Before Ben-Hur was released I saw a 15-minute preview at a conference. It was still in post production and there were some glitches but it was an impressive preview. (They showed the chariot race scene.) Feeling confident with the remake, I set my expectations to moderate.

From executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett comes an epic and awe-inspiring story of faith and forgiveness. Based on Lew Wallace’s timeless novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, the film tells the uplifting story of Judah Ben-Hur, who is enslaved by the Romans after being betrayed by his brother Messala.  Separated from his family and the woman he loves, Ben-Hur is rescued from near death by the mysterious Ilderim. He returns to his homeland seeking revenge against his brother and an empire, but instead he finds a chance for redemption.

Ben-Hur (2016) Review

Watching the remake of a classic movie is tricky. On one hand, it’s exciting because you love the movie and want to see it modernized. But on the other hand, what if the new movie is awful? Will it be a devastating experience?

I felt this way about Ben-Hur. It’s a classic. A CLASSIC! Could a remake do it justice?

When I received the new release of Ben-Hur on Blu-Ray, I procrastinated watching it. Because the fear. What if the chariot race was the only good part? What if the glitches stayed? And, worst of all, what if it ruined the story for me?

Well, of course I watched it. And I thought it was well done. The CGI and filming were remarkable. The acting was emotional and compelling. And I thought the film stayed true to the original story.

All good things. This remake brought out the themes of right versus wrong, love versus revenge, forgiveness and understanding.

I’ve watched it a couple times and although it’s a good film, it doesn’t replace the original. Perhaps they weren’t trying to (and I’m glad about that!). This remake brings the classic story into the 21st century and nothing more.


Ben-Hur (2016) synopsis

From executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett comes an epic and awe-inspiring story of faith and forgiveness. Based on Lew Wallace’s timeless novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, the film tells the uplifting story of Judah Ben-Hur, who is enslaved by the Romans after being betrayed by his brother Messala. Separated from his family and the woman he loves, Ben-Hur is rescued from near death by the mysterious Ilderim. He returns to his homeland seeking revenge against his brother and an empire, but instead he finds a chance for redemption.

Before Ben-Hur (2016) was released I saw a 15-minute preview. It was still in post production and there were some glitches but it was an impressive preview.

Other Movie Reviews