The Magnificent Seven
Rarely have so many charismatic actors been used in a film that feels quite as soulless as Antoine Fuqua’s update of The Magnificent Seven.
Omer M. Mozaffar teaches at Loyola University Chicago, where he is the Muslim Chaplain, teaching courses in Theology and Literature. He has given thousands of talks on Islam since 9/11. He is also a Hollywood Technical Consultant for productions on matters related to Islam, Arabs, South Asians.
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.
Every family has that playful uncle loved for his cuddly silliness. He is that uncle who is a few syllables beyond eccentric, who does not quite follow the rules of appropriate conduct. Kids love him while his peers look down on him. For Bollywood cinema, that beloved uncle is one of Bollywood's most loved ensemble pictures, Manmohan Desai's "Amar Akbar Anthony" (1977). It is easily one of the most beloved of all Bollywood films. It is a long melodrama, an action movie, a screwball comedy, a romance, a con film, a religious devotion, and, of course, a musical.
Streaming on Netflix Instant.
Do we teach our young people to dream in the way we used to dream? I feel a sadness as I look at the long faces of so many undergrads. In their expressions, there is a resignation towards, rather, a skepticism of, rather, a fear of the murky future. Have we lost the motivation, passion and, yes, romance of our counterparts from the 1960s, believing that with enough determination we could change the world into a better place?
Watching Mark Kitchell's "Berkeley in the Sixties," (1990) I'm thinking the contrary, that maybe things have not changed. We might look at the activism of the 1960s with nostalgia, thinking that the activists knew exactly what they were doing, but we see that the participants were discovering the process as it unfolded before them. In any case, this is one of the great documentaries of American dissent.
I find it easy and necessary to forgive the sources of my wounds. Most of them. I find it impossible, however, to forgive others for wounds inflicted upon my loved ones - especially my friends, siblings, children, and parents - even when the victims themselves are forgiving. But, most of all, I'm often imprisoned by my own remorse for the real and perceived impact my choices have had on others. Remorse is a vicious debt collector that knocks on the door to my heart on its own erratic schedule. Such is the case with Will Smith in Gabriele Muccino's "Seven Pounds" (2008).
This movie is 97 minutes of trying not to blink. Image after luxurious 70MM image. A perfect soundtrack. I watched it again, wearing headphones, sitting really close to an HD screen letting the film astound me with its Blu-Ray picture. And it did astound me, beyond my expectations. The details revealed textures and images I had not previously noticed. Every time I plan to watch Ron Fricke's "Baraka" (1992), I watch far more than I plan. I intend to watch one scene, but realize quickly that I have to finish it.
Just a few months ago, our President signed the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 after almost unanimous bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, while the media almost unanimously ignored it. This is that same troubling act that permits indefinite detentions of American citizens without trial. There was a time in our recent history when we were debating over trials for so-called Enemy Combatants detained in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo; the debate was over whether the trials should be military or civilian but the consensus was that prisoners should at least get some sort of a trial.
And, there was a time when we were surprised that the CIA held secret prisons all across the globe. Well, it seems that that time was so, so long ago and we've been so inoculated that now not even the media cares. Now, when we walk through X-Ray machines whose companies were represented by our former Head of Homeland Security, we do not think much about it anymore.
So it is with gratitude that I mention that Line Halvorsen, a filmmaker from Norway, chose to make the outstanding documentary "USA vs. Al-Arian," (2007) chronicling a short period in the life of a family that has been suffering what is nothing less than American political persecution right in our suburbs for over a decade. On the one hand, this is the story of America seeking to keep itself secure. On the other hand, it is the story of the impact these sometimes questionable efforts have on a family.
On Netflix and Amazon Instant.
Considering that we normally think of documentaries as some sort of academic discourse at the fringes of popular cinema, this relatively new genre of Celebrity-driven docs is something peculiar. That we now watch documentaries starring Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, and Bill Maher is something inevitable, I suppose. We already have that tradition of following on-screen directors as characters in their features, including Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen. But, the point here is that we watch some documentaries because of their host celebrities, more than the topic, even though the topics seem to be extensions of those same celebrities.
I suspect few people outside of his fan base will watch this movie: in Larry Charles' documentary "Religulous," (2008) popular Television talk show host Bill Maher is a playful microphone-toting cynic, roaming the landscapes of Christianity, with a few references to Judaism, Islam, and Scientology. The film is very strong and vastly entertaining in finding absurdities in absurd places, but fizzles when it attempts any serious commentary.
Streaming on Netflix Instant.
The movie starts out so beautifully. The great Indian actor Amrish Puri stands there with his dignity, dressed in a perfect mix of Western and native Indian attire, feeding a flock of pigeons in London's monochrome rain-soaked concrete Trafalgar Square, thinking fondly about the sunny, colorful, musical world he left behind in the bright green and yellow fields of his home country. Twenty years of life in England, he runs a generic convenience store, with the goals of giving his daughters the life he never had. In his daydreams, however, he is longingly feeding pigeons not here, but in India.
That very short moment provided a profound insight into the lives of a whole population of first generation immigrants. But, I'd say that the movie takes a nose dive from there, and it does temporarily, because Puri seems to spend the rest of the film with a frozen glare that is frightening enough to make Indiana Jones pull out his own heart. And, similarly, I just wish that that punk Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) would stop his giggling. This is Aditya Chopra's "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" (1995) and it is easily one of the most popular of all Bollywood films, at least for a certain demographic of women between the ages 15 and 45, in a way that "Sholay" is the most popular of all Bollywood films for whatever male demographic I belong to.
Have you ever been hit so hard that you've been left in a permanent daze? I'm speaking of a defining event that, in a matter of moments, changes everything for you, permanently. Maybe it's a collision. Maybe a life event like a tragedy or a divorce. You're at the epicenter of the calamity. The destruction hits you right between the eyes. And while you make sense of what hit you, if you ever do, your loved ones bear the brunt of the hurricane that you become. Like a set of ripples, it realigns everything you do. Peter Weir's "Fearless" 1993 shows us the effect of a plane crash, and tells us that when we get hit with such cataclysms, no single way resolves the trauma.
Streaming free on Amazon Prime.
When I watch Roger Donaldson's "The World's Fastest Indian," (2005) it makes my day. Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) is a contented New Zealand eccentric tinkering with a motorcycle that he dreams of racing in the Bonneville Salt Flats. It's the story of a man trying to be the fastest motorcyclist in history. He has had the fortitude to fiddle with his bike for over 40 years until it is finally ready. Forty years. More than that, it's a true story about a square peg poking his way through a world of circles and triangles, discovering all the different Americas. It's a romantic comedy, for monks. Like me.
One man. Three acts. Three stories. First, he is an aggressive corporate manager, racing against seconds and minutes to do his work and live his life. Second, he is a quiet man in a peaceful land, where time moves in seasons and years. Third, he is a bewildered man at home, where time has slipped passed him, making him miss the most important events of his life, including his own death. This is Robert Zemeckis' great "Cast Away" (2000). If this were a foreign language film or an independent film with a no-name cast, I am sure it would have received tremendous acclaim. As an American film by a major American director featuring two powerhouse actors (Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt), however, it has been left underrated.