We Are Your Friends
Friends shouldn’t let friends pay money to see We Are Your Friends.
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.
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.
There are a few spoilers here. Because I am mentioning that there are spoilers, I am implying that there are things you do not want to know in advance, thus making you curious, thus lifting your expectations higher than they should be, thus making it harder for you to enjoy the film. So, enter at your own risk.
Occasionally I receive a paper from a student that is so outstanding in content and ideas, that in grading it I am compelled to overlook the shortcomings in argument, style and polish. Such is my experience with Christopher Nolan's "Inception." This movie is very ambitious, not only in the ideas it explores, but also in the expectations it has of its audience. In my estimation, having watched the film on a giant screen with a packed theater of cheering, laughing, and groaning moviegoers at a popular suburban multiplex, it fulfills its ambitions of big-budget intelligent storytelling.
I have a friend who walked out of THERE WILL BE BLOOD during that baptism scene, when Daniel Day-Lewis exclaimed, "I've abandoned my child!" My friend was just divorced, lost custody of his children, and was tormented with the remorse that follows these things. As Daniel Day-Lewis shouted, my friend almost needed to cover his ears. He returned to his seat shortly afterwards, but needed that moment to collect himself.
I have another friend who was molested by a family friend. She refuses therapy, but she attributes multiple aspects of her personality, that she herself identifies as disorders - social ineptitude, sexual dysfunction and confusion, chronic despair - to that period of molestation. When she watched MYSTIC RIVER, a movie speaking of the physical and psychological abuse of children and the long term consequences on their hearts and minds, she found herself painfully revisiting those experiences, but not where we might expect.
After commenting on George Clooney as Hollywood star, and as star of the very excellent Jason Reitman film UP IN THE AIR, I decided to shift attention to a similar figure in Bollywood cinema: Aamir Khan. Aamir Khan is the star of the most successful Bollywood movie in history, the comedy THREE IDIOTS. Like Clooney (and perhaps Redford before him) he uses his star power to make serious movies, with the most famous being LAGAAN. Here, in MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING we look at this story of one of the respected heroes of Indian cultural memory.
On the surface, the film continues the popular David vs. Goliath anti-imperialist genre we find in such films as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, KING OF KINGS, LION OF THE DESERT, THE BATTLE FOR ALGIERS, some revisionist westerns like THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, the TV miniseries MASADA, BRAVEHEART,