Director Mark Jackson’s drama is a chilly study in grief starring Catherine Keener as a war-zone photographer shattered by her experiences in Libya.
Omer M. Mozaffar lectures across Chicago, teaching courses on religion, literature, history and film. He has given well over a thousand talks on Islam since 9/11.
In 2009, Roger Ebert named him as one of his “Far Flung Correspondents.” In 2011, the Graham School of the University of Chicago honored him with an “Excellence in Teaching Award” in Humanities, Arts and Sciences. He is a lifelong Chicagoan, involving himself in various educational, social service and charitable projects.
The sunglasses, scowls and black leather make it easy to forget that the Wachowski Brothers' mega-popular "The Matrix" (1999) is a dystopian superhero movie, if that makes any sense. The story is an exciting but familiar origins story. We experience and recognize its Frankenstein mythology telling us that our creations, the machines, have conquered us. We see its Orwell/Kafka environment, sometimes taken straight from Orson Welles' "The Trial." And we appreciate its fantastically choreographed martial arts (at least early on, paying homage to video games and Hong Kong movies). And, the philosopher will appreciate the conscious exercise in semiotics. Perhaps, the greatest fun of this movie is the popcorn entertainment. But, for me, even though the movie invests itself so much in its coolness, the overarching appeal of "The Matrix" is its mysticism.
Thinking about this movie, I had to go to a thesaurus to find any synonyms for "underdog." Try it. The point is that I had little interest in watching another dark horse movie because they tend to follow the same unique long shot formula to such a degree that there are not many synonyms even for the word that describes them. Further, the admittedly exciting trailer for Gavin O'Connor's geometrically constructed "Warrior" (2011) seemed to give away all of the film's secrets, including the most preposterous plot points. More than that, all the villains in these Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) matches seemed too familiar and too cartoonish. But, a few friends recommended the movie; then, my fellow Far Flung Correspondent from Cairo, Wael Khairy, appreciated this movie somewhere in his list of the Best Films of 2011.
For the first time in a long time, she has breakfast with her husband. But now, nobody in her house will talk to her. She is Arati, wife of Subrata, and to help pay expenses she starts her first job outside of the home. In Satyajit Ray's tender "Mahanagar" (1963) aka: "Big City", we follow a quiet Indian family's struggles against the nearing claws of modernity.
I've seen scenes in this movie multiple times in multiple movies, yet I've never seen this movie before. Andrew Niccol's "Lord of War," is the story of the rise and decline of an arms trafficker (Nicholas Cage) and takes many predictable narrative steps. It is a list of cinematic clichés, from the personalities (even the names) of the characters, to the moments of suspense and surprise, to the preposterous ethnic stereotypes. It contains everything short of a protagonist dangling from a cliff or a racing bus driving through a fruit stand. Further, there is very little character development, very little revelation, and most of the characters are caricatures. Nevertheless, the final product is a thoroughly original, provocative satire that explores a violent decade of global peace and haunts you with an almost silent sinister laugh.
There is a 20 second moment in Jason Reitman's "Young Adult" that just floored me. Here is the story of a High School Prom Queen -- Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) - revisiting her hometown on a targeted mission to reclaim her old boyfriend. She walks through her parents' house and sees a large wedding photo. I thought it was a photo of her parents; her mother looks just like her? But, no, it is her own wedding. Not only do her parents keep the photo, but her father casually praises her ex-husband. I don't remember how long she's been divorced, but I was devastated just listening to his comments. Any normal parent would break his or her back to provide the child with every benefit; any child knows this. Still, the child also needs to hear the "I love you" and the "I value you" and the "I'm proud of you." But, when the child's ears hear, "I like your ex-spouse," from the two people she needs validation from, they are saying, "I like your ex-spouse, though he is worth nothing compared to you." What she instead hears is, "You're no good. You failed. I'm siding with him."
Religion takes you from darkness into light, and David Fincher's deeply religious "Fight Club" grows darker and darker still. Here, piety is anarchy; anarchy is destruction; self-destruction is ecstasy. It plays whimsical department store music while its broken shark teeth chew at you. Its sound, consistent plot leads straight to an abrasive, perhaps annoying schizophrenia. It is the Bodhisattva, Satyagraha, and the Masnavi mashed up and played backwards with the wrong device. This movie is the anti-movie, and it enjoys every moment of it.
There are some American suburbs that are notorious for their high concentration of high powered parents who excel in their high class careers, spare no expense in raising precisely crafted children, and in the process completely abandon themselves, their spouses, and their children. That is one level of Alexander Payne's "The Descendants." This is such a rich movie that I'll have to watch it a few times to fairly appreciate all of its layers.
Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Biutiful" was utter torture, and I loved it. Javier Bardem is Uxbal, a soft-spoken man living somewhere along the border between Here and There. He gently hides from life in some anonymous place in crowded, noisy Barcelona. He is a hustler, compassionately exploiting families of undocumented refugees from other lands, protecting them from deportation. He is a telepath, speaking to the newly deceased, helping free their crossing to the next world. He is a son who hardly knew his father, and a father seeking to nurture his own little daughter and son against the pull of an unpredictable ex-wife and an irresponsible brother. But, what does he seek?
Describing Steve James' "The Interrupters," I might sound like I'm talking about some dry public heath study. The centerpiece of the film is a profound theory on human nature. Science and philosophy aside, "The Interrupters" is the closest thing to a real-life superhero origins story that any of us might ever experience. This film is exactly that: a superhero origins documentary. It might be the most powerful movie I have ever seen.
On a personal level, the most surprising aspect of Rashid Ghazi's new documentary, "Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football," is that he managed to keep it a secret and even managed the time to make it. An old friend, he personally funded and directed this portrait of a week in the life of a tightly-knit Detroit community at the beginning of their 2009 school year. A husband, a father, and tireless executive, he kept quiet about the film, even keeping his name off the original publicity. Simply: he did not want to get attacked by rampaging anti-Muslim zealots who seek to fake scandal where there is none.