There isn’t an honest moment in all 96 minutes of Traffik.
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.
Emad Burnat's "5 Broken Cameras" (2012) is the most powerful movie since "The Interrupters" (2011). In this autobiographical documentary, the director purchases a video camera to chronicle his newborn son's growth. Trying to catch those firsts (first smile, first step, first tooth), he cannot separate them from events in his rural Palestinian town, itself defined by life under occupation. In the process, he watches his camera get broken from a grenade. He replaces it with another, which gets broken. And he replaces it with another. And another. And another, so that each camera becomes an episode in his life. The film gets progressively shocking and perilous. In contrast to hopefulness underlying "The Interrupters," however, this film gets progressively more hopeless and desperate.
The star of Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012) is Kathryn Bigelow. This film is intensely suspenseful, even though we already know the narrative and its ending, or perhaps because we already know. Its drama is all the more compelling because, when listing out all the plot points, this is actually a very straightforward, almost dull story about a chase that, when it completed, was mostly irrelevant. Even the raid on Usama bin Laden's compound was more of a careful trek through a labyrinth than a shootout. Moreover, we know what happens; we are now watching how.
Benh Zeitlin's first feature film, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012), is at times a wonderful and at times a gripping story of a little girl making sense in a forgotten land of trees and rust. It follows in the tradition of movies about happy children running through an unhappy world, in an America we never see on the screen. If she does not steal your heart in the first hour, she will surely grab it in the final thirty minutes. So, if you have your own little Ruthless Gradeschooler her age, then I pity the levees that hold back your tears.
Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" (2012) is a very good Tarantino movie. Save for "Pulp Fiction," I tend to appreciate and respect Tarantino movies more than I enjoy them. "Pulp Fiction," however, was so entertaining that I did not want it to end. Such were my feelings with "Django Unchained." As a mash of bloody pulp cinema with great aspirations, it is as entertaining as anything I have seen from Tarantino. For Tarantino diehards it is as Tarantino-esque as everything else from him.
I had the privilege of watching Mischa Webley's curiously entertaining first film, "The Kill Hole" (2012), at the Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago. This carefully crafted movie has begun winning awards at festivals across the country, and rightly so. Its director and producer Zach Hagen is congenial and it is a very good movie. It keeps leading you in one direction, in order to sneak up on you in the other.
Dedicated to all those who lost family members prematurely, and to two students -- one struggling with addiction, and the other who lost her father.
This is grief. The silence that comes with a loved one's death is like no normal silence. It is in our culture that we respond to this stillness with stillness upon stillness. We try to think of death as that leap into some great beyond, perhaps finally letting our loved one's fluorescent inner radiance free. In the process, those loved ones take with them the air from within our lungs. So, in coping, we respond to their perceived new freedom by restricting ourselves with strict boundaries. And, as we cope with loss, we find relief in reunions. Time begins to jump around as we sit in the moment in front of us, leaping between moments in the past, frightened by the cloud in the future. The reunions open old happy memories that help turn that searing, salty burn of the tears into a blankety warmth. But, in our culture, the reunions often end quickly, leaving us alone in the darkness, unable to sleep. This is grief. And, this is what I observed in the first half hour of Susanne Bier's soft-spoken "Things we Lost in the Fire" (2007).
The key strength of David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012) is that the acting is so strong that we forget we are watching the movie. In those moments that the plot guides us, it takes us in some directions familiar, some directions frightening, and some directions fun. In a year that has given us a compassionate story about addiction in "Flight," we also have this equally tender film about mental illness. I want to see this movie again, if at least because it is so happy, even though it did not have to be.
Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2102) is exactly what we would expect it to be. It is reverent. It is of such epic scope, with such microscopic attention to detail, that it competes with any period piece in the history of cinema. Daniel Day-Lewis disappears into Abraham Lincoln. So many supporting players ornament this film that a familiar face appears on screen every few minutes, adding depth, personality, and charm. Tony Kushner's script is complex, pious, and at times mesmerizing. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography, mixed with Rick Carter's production design, provides a portrait in every frame.
Ang Lee's allegorical "The Life of Pi" (2012) is a film to appreciate slowly and carefully. It is a friendly post-modern, global fantasy, making the "Wizard of Oz" seem like a clunky product from a nation that now only exists in triumphalist superhero fables as it fights mercilessly for its final gasps of air. This is a smart film, the most intelligent meditation on religion in quite some time. Lee's masterful direction fills us with dramatic, wonderful visuals, and the type of relentless unpredictability we starve for as we wade through the usual zombie-like assortment of formulaic blockbuster crime movies.
Sam Mendes' "Skyfall" (2012) provides us with one of the best of all the twenty-something James Bond films. It is full of toys, though a different set of toys than we might expect, placing far more focus on the heroes' stories than the villain's plotting. Is there even a real Bond-girl in this movie? And, what about the Bond car? It seems strangely familiar. Rather, whatever traditional Bond characters and trinkets this film skips or skimps on, it replaces with gigabytes of substance. Like you, I have seen all the Bond films - most of them multiple times - even though some of them are just not that good. But, they are James Bond movies, so it becomes almost a duty to the Queen keep up with them as times continue to change. This one, thankfully, is fantastic.