Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Critics were not particularly kind to this film by Indian director Mira Nair, and unfortunately that probably means that far too few people will see it. The movie weaves the slow paced life story of Changez Khan into a dialogue set against very immediate tensions in Lahore, Pakistan. Those tensions - typical tensions ramped up by the kidnapping of an American professor - remind us of the very real effects that all of the little details in a life have (the relationships, conversations, mis-steps etc).

There is a lot to like about this movie. The music is beautifully done - most of it Pakistani. There are glimpses on what typical interactions between America and Pakistan can be like (apart from what one sees on the news). The politics are handled with something approaching the relative complexity it deserves. There is a clear, though not directly stated, link made between American bottom-line business tactics and the problems that contribute to the mixed appreciation and dismissal toward America that is felt by many in countries like Pakistan. The acting was very solid.

But the best part of the film is that it tells the story of a young man whose journey is relatively universal. He sets out from home with ambitions and dreams, only to struggle to find his identity and vocation as he becomes experienced and broken. The conversation with the Turkish publisher was a highlight that I hope will stay with me.

It seems to be a growing pattern that I am particularly drawn to films that a portion of critics find "heavy-handed." From where I sit, most of these critiques seem like they're coming from those who don't like to see their own positions questioned in a powerful way. I'm sure that I am less impressed when a movie seems to make a strong point I disagree with (The Pursuit of Happyness comes to mind - though I appreciated the film) but I hope that I don't blame those involved for being too didactic when the characters are as real and nuanced as they are in a film like The Reluctant Fundamentalist. This is worth seeing and I give it ***+

Monday, 12 August 2013


Another film that was underrated by the critics, causing me to miss seeing it at the cinema, which I deeply regret because among the film’s many outstanding qualities is the gorgeous cinematography. Danny Boyle’s latest film also features one of the most effective scores I have heard in a while and great performances by the three lead actors (James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel). 

Trance also happens to be my kind of film. McAvoy plays Simon, a man utterly confused about what’s going on around him while associating with a femme-fatale-like character (Elizabeth, played by Dawson) and a classy gangster (Franck, played by Cassel) and his thugs. Yes, this is a stylish neo-noir film. And it is all done so well that the fact that I was almost as confused as Simon could actually be seen by me as another positive attribute. 

If I told you what Trance is about, it would only mislead you (unless I tried to tell you everything, which I couldn’t do even if I wanted to, which I don’t). Suffice to say that it concerns the whereabouts of a stolen painting worth £27.5 million. Due to a head injury, Simon can’t remember where he put it and so requires the help of a hypnotherapist (Elizabeth), with Franck lurking in the background every step of the way. Things go downhill from there and the plot gets so complicated that the above description may actually NOT be what the film is about (I tried to warn you).

The violence in Trance is far too graphic for my taste and seemed quite unnecessary. And the ending doesn’t completely work for me, though it wasn’t a major letdown. All in all, I enjoyed Trance much more than, say, Elysium, which I did see in the cinema (on IMAX, no less), but then mind-bending intelligent well-made neo-noir films just happen to be a particular interest (though sci-fi would also qualify). ***+. My mug is up.

Sunday, 11 August 2013


According to the new film, Elysium, written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, the world’s wealthiest people have the resources to help make the world a better place. Wow! I had no idea! Not only that, but the film suggests that the world’s wealthiest nations should be a little more generous with their immigration policies! Imagine! Really, Neill, don’t you think such earth-shattering revelations are a little over-the-top? Shouldn’t we stick to some common sense, even in a sci-fi film? Sigh. 

As already shown in his 2011 film, District 9, Blomkamp’s heart is in the right place but he suffers from an infuriating lack of imagination. Both of his films have a great concept and an important message, and they both start well, but Blomkamp just doesn’t know how to close the deal in a way that is believable, consistent or helpfully relevant to life in the 21st century. Specifically, he turns to redemptive violence of the worst kind (you know what I’m talking about - demonizing, killing off the baddies, etc.) to correct the wrongs of a world gone out of control.

That world is the Earth in 2154, a time when the wealthy have long since fled our diseased polluted planet and moved to a giant space station in orbit called Elysium. For some reason, the poor diseased masses who were left behind aren’t satisfied with their lot and continually try to find ways to get to Elysium. But the person in charge of security on Elysium is a hard-case named Delacourt (played by Jodie Foster) who sees herself as protecting the way of life of the folks on Elysium by making sure no one from Earth sets foot on the space station (or at least not for more than a few minutes). 

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Max (Matt Damon) is on parole and doing a monotonous job in a robot-building factory. It’s also a dangerous job and he gets injured in a way that only Elysium has the means to fix, so away we go. With a little imagination, this could have been an intelligent, thought-provoking film about the crazy world we live in, where so many suffer needlessly while so many others have far more than they need. Instead, we get a super-violent, simplistic, predictable cliched mess. So sad. 

Elysium looks good and the acting is okay - it just needs a story that actually gives us some realistic thoughtful options instead of violence. I’ll give it *** for the heart and the concept. Neill, I expect more next time. My mug is up but there's precious little inside.