'Up the Yangtze' awash in powerul emotions

"Up the Yangtze" (Not rated) gives the initial impression that it will focus on the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric project, located in the province of Hubei in China. Its sheer size is staggering, and the weight of the water, some speculate, once it closes its final gate in 2011, could effect the rotation of the earth on its axis. Seemingly farfetched, but the point is made: it will hold a lot of water. Not since the Great Wall of China has this nation of 1.3 billion people attempted anything of this magnitude.

However, Canadian-Chinese filmmaker Yung Chang chooses to examine the impact of the dam on the people who live along the Yangtze and who must retreat to new homes and new lives. Two million people have thus far been displaced and it is estimated 4 million will, in some way, be affected.

Chang follows a 16-year-old girl, Yu Shui, whose parents are grindingly poor peasants. They live in a small hut on the banks of the river, subsisting on vegetables they can grow and the small income her father can earn from his labor. Yu wishes only to continue onto high school (she has just graduated from middle school); her parents, in desperate need of income, want her to go to work. She gets a job working on what are called the "Farewell Cruises," large river boats run by Victoria Lines that steam up and down the Yangtze offering Western tourists one last opportunity to see the Gorges and old China (or so they're told) before all is flooded.

The scale of this enormous project is movingly reduced to a small family and their daughter who watch the river rise and know that it is only a matter of time before they must abandon their home (constructed of tar paper and scavenged wood) and their way of life. Meanwhile, Chang follows Yu as she struggles to adjust to life on the boat where the contrasts between the servers and the wealthy tourists are glaring.

In a rich and powerful scene, Chang captures Yu's father carrying a large dresser, the size of an armoire, on his back, up the stone covered river bank toward a hand-pulled cart. It is painful to watch as he stoically takes one step, then another, moving away from his house, his garden, knowing only that his life and that of his family are about to change forever.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

The expectation was that "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" (Rated PG-13) would be a shallow, airy film with all the depth of water on a sidewalk. Actually, it surprised. Based on the books by Ann Brashares, the filmmakers create four vignettes, each with its own short narrative, and each giving the girlfriends an opportunity to deal with their problematic lives &

separation, independence &

as they move onto college. There's Bridget (Blake Lively), Lena (Alexis Bledel), Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), and Carmen (America Ferrera), best friends and co-owners of the traveling pants, which they send via Fed Ex to one another as the mood hits them. Actually, the pants seem all but incidental, yet remain a metaphor for their intention to stay in touch, no matter the changes or the distances.

As the film opens, it's summer and each of them is pursuing interests which are diverse yet interesting and adventurous. Of course there are young men involved, fragile hearts wishing not to be broken, breakdowns in communication, and, ultimately, support from the sisterhood.

Surprisingly, each vignette stands alone, is engaging, and the actors convincing and talented. Girls (say tween to mid-teen) will love this movie and likely relate to at least one of the sisters (not biological, of course). Grab a daughter if she's just hanging out this summer, vacation having reached the tipping point, and make it a Mom and daughter date to see his film. Later, take a moment to chat it up. There's lots of ammunition in this film for it's well written and well done.

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