And now for something completely different: This Week's Reviews!
MOOZ-LUM (2011) Director: Qasim "Q" Basir
"Mooz-Lum" tackles the subject of growing up in a strict Muslim upbringing in America. Obviously at a certain point in this story, 9/11 will happen, and at least temporarily the world at large will change, but the effects that has on Tariq (Evan Ross) or "T", as he prefers to be known, only complicate his colelge experience. Tariq's parents separated when he was young. His father (Roger Guenveur Smith), who his mother has left Tariq, while taking his sister (Nia Long is the mother, Kimberly Drummond, eventually plays the sister), with her. There's a slight "Boyz N the Hood," with this notion of a son needing a father to teach him how to be a man, although that plan backfires a bit here. He goes to a Muslim school, where he is psychically abused by one of the teachers. He also experiences racism when he befriends a neighboring white girl, who has to hide their friendship from her racist father. The more I think of this movie, it's strange how it's actually a piecing together of vignettes of..., I don't quite know the exact term, but I would refer to it as the Muslim experience in America. Some of its positive, some of its negative. There's an odd sideplot involving one of Tariq's professors (Dorian Missick). He's constantly in battle with the school's Dean (Danny Glover). Dean Francis, is a racist against Muslims, but justifies his actions by saying things like "It's not me, I have to protect everyone else", type attitudes. Professor Jamal is the popular young World Religion teacher. He, as well as Tariq's dormmate (Kunal Sharma), a Muslim himself (Requested by his father, not Tariq), try to get through to Tariq. T is smart, but confrontational, and sometimes paranoid. He's grown up in a world where he had to memorize the Qu'ran, and now lives in a world where that skill is of little value. The movie goes a little all over the place, and there's something odd about the post 9/11 rage of the white students who go looking for Muslims to kill, they literally carry hockey sticks like they're about to destroy Frankenstein, and it doesn't come off as realistic. I think there's interesting things here, but it's almost sideways to the action. The flashback nature of the film gives us some sense of Tariq, but only one little part at a time, and I'm not completely sure they all really add up to him at the end. He's struggling to find out who he is, and the movie struggles to find it. It's a little heavy-handed, but it's a recommendation.
A SCREAMING MAN (2011) Director: Mahamet-Saleh Haroun
3 1/2 STARS
"A Screaming Man," is reportedly one of, if not the first, feature-length film, from the nation of Chad, and it's a pretty decent one. It won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year, and won other awards at other major festivals. It tells the couple stories centering around an N'Djanema hotel worker named Adam (Youssouf Djaoro), who's a former Champion swimmer, now he's the pool attendant. He soon gets demoted to security after the new Chinese owners prefer his son (Diocounda Koma), gets takes over. This is also right around the time as a revolution is occurring. There's always a revolution occurring in Africa it seems like, and Chad is no exception. Despite my appreciation of the film, the movie was at times a little too paceful for me, but it is powerful, as father and son slowly leads to distrust and anger, coinsiding with the country's. There's some beautiful shots of the men swimming in both the hotel pool. (And I also believe in Lake Chad, but I'm not sure exactly. Haven't double-checked the geography yet.) For a film called "A Screaming Man," it's strangely quiet. In fact, Adam, or Champ, as most refer to him, doesn't scream literally at all. He's intensely quiet in fact. You get the sense that if his son wasn't involved, the revolution might blow right past him, untouched, and if it was up to him, he'd still be attending to the pool. Interesting choice to make a very dry and landlot country's first film, to be about a man who's at peace floating in water.
IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (2010) Directors: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden
2 1/2 STARS
The lazily albeit correctly titled "It's Kind of a Funny Story," has an interesting and cute premise, and kinda delivers, but not enough. I'm trying to stop myself from using the word "kind of", or "kinda," about twenty times during this review. The story begins with a
ALAMAR (2010) Director: Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio
I can describe the entire plot of "Alamar," in possibly two sentences. The story is about a Mexican father who has a few weeks to let his young son get a feel for his Mayan roots, before he goes to live in Italy with his mother. Wow, I got it in one sentence. There's not much plot, there's not much conflict even. In fact, if you didn't know "Alamar," was a movie, you might have thought it was a documentary about people in Mexico who still live and work like the Mayans, sorta like Colonial Williamsburg, or one of those cannibal tribes along the Amazon that still hasn't been introduced to electricity. There's not even a particular conflict with the parents in this film, they seem to have parted on fairly good terms, and all that is told is prologue before we even get to the movie. This is a beautiful and at times, a touching film. He teaches his son how to fish and cook, they travel from island to island off the coast of Mexico, and lots of other things. I don't know how much the kid actually enjoyed the time, but he seems to have fond memories of it when he returns with his mother in Rome at the end. They fish differently in Italy. On the one-hand, it's a little too National Geographic and not really a story or a plot to grab a hold to, but on the other hand I enjoyed that. This is a light and touching movie about a loving parent and his son, and unlike other movies that can start with that description, the kid has two loving parents.
GO (1999) Director: Doug Liman
2 1/2 STARS
Doug Liman's "Go," is so obviously influenced from "Pulp Fiction," that it's impossible to mention "Go," without bringing up it's similarities. In fact, I'm fairly sure the actual structure of the film is damn near stolen from "Pulp Fiction," completely. That's not necessarily a bad thing in of itself; in fact, if you're gonna steal from a movie, you might as well steal from a good one. It's even a fairly entertaining for much of the movie, but by the end, I just wondered, what was all that about, other than stealing blatantly from Tarantino? The movie involves a drug deal gone bad. I'll begin with two TV actors, Adam and Zach (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr), who are secretly lovers, except to anybody who's ever seen them outside of work. They're in trouble with the cops though, and have to run a sting to set-up Simon (Desmond Askew) to get caught selling drugs, so he can in tern, be used to catch his supplier. Unfortunately, just as they're about to set up the sting, Simon, gets in, about as much trouble an idiot can get in Vegas without actually getting killed, although he does get shot, eventually. Without Simon though, Adam and Zach ask his replacement Ronna (Sarah Polley) to run drugs in his place, and she begins to make money selling at a rave. All these events begin with the scene at a supermarket and, well, they kinda just shove them altogether at the end, but I guess there is a logical sequence to it. You can fairly easily place the scenes in the right time and place in your head, but I came away wondering what was the point of the movie, as well as why did they need to be place in a confusing order. I guess an argument can be made that the movie shows off the scene of this lower-class section of L.A. characters effectively, but when I watch a movie like "Pulp Fiction," I feel full at the end. After watching "Go", I still felt a little empty.
MY ARCHITECT (2003) Director: Nathaniel Kahn
4 1/2 STARS
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, "My Architect," should probably more accurately be titled "My Father." Nathaniel Kahn's father was the legendary architect Louis I Kahn. He rarely spent time with him, his mother had him out of wedlock, and most of Kahn's family weren't even aware of him until years later. Kahn kept multiple families as he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, where one of his building, the science building stands, surprising unimpressive. Kahn's architecture is none for being classical by design. When Bangladesh went into Civil War with Pakistan, the soldier ignored his, then still in construction, Capital building, thinking it was an Ancient ruin. That building is one of Kahn's most magnificient. Nathaniel, travels to almost all of Kahn's most famous buildings, and talks to people who know him. Some of the names will be familiar to architecture aficienados, Frank Gehry for instance, who was the subject of Sydney Pollack's final film. Kahn was apparently private, and also notorious bullheaded and uncompromising. Often getting fired from projects, before they were finalized, and he didn't make many friends among other architects. He actually sorta reminded me of Ayn Rand's protagonist in "The Fountainhead," albeit, with a different architectural style. (That book, and movie suck btw, don't bother with it.) Kahn's collapsed at Penn Station, one night, supposedly after declaring live to Nathaniel's mother, a story he's lived with growing up, but he ultimately finds little evidence backing it up. This is an amazing film, about discovering a man, who's very difficult to discover and penetrate, even from those who know him. It's a fascinating and unpredictable journey, not just for people who have a knowledge of architecture. This is a movie about a son trying to understand his father, and it's an uncannily good one at that. Usually even good films of this sort, are somewhat self-indulgent, but not here at all. "My Architect," is as powerful a film about an individual you're gonna fine, and yet by the end, I still wasn't sure what I knew about him. It seems, like many artists, the best way to understand them is to study their art, architecture and Louis I. Kahn, is no exception.
MAKING OF (2006) Director: Nouri Bouzid
"Making Of," at first glance, seems like the kind of movie that a critic like me should gravitate towards, and for a while I thought I would. However, one of the priorities of a movie that a critic should gravitate towards is that the movie should keep the viewer conscious. I had a disturbingly hard time remaining conscious during "Making Of," and it's a shame too, 'cause the movie is well-made and has a very intriguing premise. The movie takes place in Tunisia (Huh, second movie this week that takes place in Africa. That's odd for me) and stars Lotfi Abdelli as Bahta, a local and talented breakdancer, who will slowly become a suicide bomber after the attacks on 9/11. (Second time this week, 9/11 has come up too.) He then starts to trust the wrong guy, becoming brainwashed into believing that martyrdom for a cause as the only true path to paradise and righteousness. It's a disturbing thought, and doesn't paint Muslims in a positive light. Then, about an hour into the movie, something unusual happens. The actor breaks character. He starts turning to the director, and agonizing over his thoughts about the film. He, and the director can really get in trouble for playing this part and making this film, and they discuss these reservations, they discuss them a couple other times during the movie too. They're some of the same thoughts that we were thinking. Well, that and the movie should be about a 1/2 hour shorter. (They didn't discuss that last part.) It's a disturbing realistic portrayal of just how easily a talented and smart young man can be manipulated into kamikaze-type behavior. This isn't completely new. Fellini's "8 1/2," famously has a critic within the movie criticizes much of the movie as we're watching it, something I'd like to do to a lot worse movies than this one, however at the same token, the movie strangely drags through much of this middle section, just when you think it would be at it's most interesting. I've seen more than a few movies with a similar premise in recent months. "Day Night Day Night," about an American who's preparing to blow up Times Square, as well as "The Terrorist," about a young jihadist, that's based on an actual assassination. "Making Of," asks some of the same questions those films asked, it even asks them literally, but it's not as good, and couldn't keep my interest, despite the creative breaking of the fourth wall. It's a well-made movie, and this is probably the lowest ranking anybody will give the film, but to me, it ultimately fluttered when it should've shined. Disappointing film.
COMRADE (2006) Director: Eyal Shiray
It just so happens that PBS aired an opera adaptation of the great movie "Il Postino," the other day. Placido Domingo starred in it, and while I didn't watch the opera, I've seen the movie. It was a film about a man who befriended Communist Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It's a masterful film, that has a few things in common with "Comrade." They both are about young people who befriend a Communist. I recommend strongly that everyone see "Il Postino." I don't think anybody needs to particularly see "Comrade." The movie takes place in Israel where a young kid, Ilan (Adam Hirsch) befriends a local nutjob who Russian (Assi Dayan). I'm calling him a nutjob, because while, he's intelligent about a lot of things, including politics and modern warfare, and helps out Ilan a few times, he's preparing for Communism to rise again in Russia, and has guns all through his house and even has mines buried all around his house, in case somebody tries to..., I don't know exactly. What kind of person has to have a house protected by hidden mines? I hopefully it's somebody who really pissed somebody off at some point, but even then, it's a little crazy. Although the main problem I had with the film curiously was the lack of a story actually. It's a brisk 70 minute film, and almost as soon as we meet the Communist, he's barracaded himself in his house, and the police, bomb squad and riot squad are outside trying to convince him to surrender. (Well, a lot of Police anyway, I'm not sure which branch actually.) It actually had a decent shot at being something interesting at one point, but basically the film turned into a gunfight instead, going, anywhere really. This movie barely has a 2nd act, and that's just odd. Completely missed opportunity here.