Alice Through the Looking Glass
There is no magic, no wonder, just junk rehashed from a movie that was itself a rehash of Lewis Carroll, tricked out with physically unpersuasive…
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.
Nearly every frame in this movie is a low-angle shot, looking up in awe and curiosity. At times, we gasp at the complex beauty of galaxies and supernovas. At times we stare closely at expressions of children that seem no less complex, no less beautiful, and no less valuable. At times we look to the sky, hoping to see what our characters see. Terrence Malick's wondrously abstract "The Tree of Life" has very little dialogue, but is not at all a silent movie.
As the quiet, fragrant hickory quality of the American Small Town fades into disposable plastic franchises, we find ourselves longing. For some, the American small town is the home they have been handed, being the home that they have chosen to keep. For some, it is the refuge away from the complications of city into a new simple life of inconspicuous rebirth. For many of us, however, the small town is an idealized yesterday that we mourn, nostalgic for a return to a black and white television show with Opie and Andy. The strange thing about Victor Nunez's "Ulee's Gold," is that it made me long to return to a hometown, an American small town, that I never lived in.
I have long had trouble enjoying live sporting events, concerts, and stage shows for three reasons. First, I would tire from watching the show from one single angle. Conditioned by movies, I need the variety of angles, the intimacy of close-ups and the sweep of tracking shots. Second, live events will never have the polish of a polished movie. And, third, (more applicable to large stage shows) the dialogue is always too enunciated and thus distant, even when it is "realistic."
How long does it take for a good movie to convince you to watch it? Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men," announced itself in the first scene, presented its product in the second, introduced paperwork in the third, and closed the deal in the fourth. The two hour long "Matchstick Men" sold in me less than seven minutes.
Every semester, I ask my students this one simple question. "Can you honestly say that you are happy?" In a class of 40 students, maybe only six will raise their hands. And that is pretty sad.
Are they plagued by those uncertainties of youth? Are they wondering if they will find a career, love, or meaning? Are they terrified by the threats of terrorist attacks, financial collapse, climate change and, well, the Apocalypse? Or, have they decided that the "American Dream" was not Thomas Jefferson's vision, but is instead a sappy Hollywood fantasy? Or, maybe they just hate my class? Sure.
In answering this question, Gabriele Muccino's "The Pursuit of Happyness," takes many usual directions that Hollywood movies take. At first, he seems to answer the question the way we would expect a Hollywood filmmaker to answer:
If we are to believe some of his many fans, then Tupac Shakur was never murdered. Rather, he is today living a quiet life, perhaps playing chess under quiet New Zealand clouds with Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley. And while Lauren Lazin bookends her documentary, "Tupac: Resurrection," with his murder, the movie takes us through the turbulent world that formed and informed his biography. The movie convinces us that we have entered not only his mind, but his heart.
Philip Noyce's "The Quiet American" is a tale of lies. It introduces itself as a noir murder mystery, but seamlessly veers into a story of man in love with a dancer, looking for redemption in his twilight.
From there it flows into a love triangle pitting an old frightened Brit (Michael Caine) against a young fearless American (Brendan Fraser). In moments of crisis, the American saves the Brit's life. In a moment of anger, the Brit seems to allow the American's death.
I hope this letter reaches you with the best of health and spirits. I am reaching out to you not only because I loved your movies, but also because we are of the same generation of Desis. We migrated here with our parents during that first huge wave some forty years ago and now we are both (perhaps in self-perception) regular middle-aged guys from big cities experiencing the next phases of our lives. I am sure that many of your childhood experiences paralleled mine, both in school playgrounds and in our private imaginations. In some ways, we are peers; in some ways I admire your work. The fact that I am writing this letter implies that I am concerned about a progression that seems to be taking place in your films.
Qasim Basir presents his first feature film, "Mooz-lum," featuring Danny Glover, Nia Long, and Roger Guenveur Smith. Based on true events, it follows the story of Tariq (Evan Ross, son of Diana Ross) as he begins college, hoping to escape his childhood struggles. Estranged from his mother and sister, he spent his youth living at times with a strict, religious father and at times in a local madrassa (Islamic seminary). He is a Muslim college student, enrolling in the Fall of 2001. Simply, it is a story of a man trying to hide from the boy within him, just as all hell is about to break loose.
The movie opens nationally on Friday, 2/11. The title is a play on a common mispronunciation of "Muslim." I shrug when President Obama, despite his childhood in Indonesia, pronounces the term as "Muz-lem," though that is still better than the archaic "Moslem." The point here is not that anyone is intentionally mispronouncing the name. Rather, those of us with Muslim names
After exploring the mother-daughter relationship and social issues in "Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire," I decided to visit the father-son relationship and comparable issues in "The Color of Paradise."
Majid Majidi's work is one my favorite movies. It is a movie I enjoy from start to finish. Every time I watch it I discover new dimensions. Still, I don't know if it is depressingly sad or filled with hope and happiness.