The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash
A solid documentary about a great musician, with passages of greatness.
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.
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.
Now available on demand via iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Instant and various cable systems. Opening Nov. 23 at Facets Cinemathqeue; playing around the country.
It begins with a slow motion party of a bunch of middle aged men in assorted levels of grimy undress, dancing and spitting a few feet short of a drunken stupor. That unhappy first scene makes it clear that Rick Alverson's 2012 film "The Comedy" is not one. It seeks to be the inverse of everything. In nearly every scene, our characters try to offend everyone, including ourselves, with their comments on life, packaged in the most abrasive rock salt. Not for any other reason, but pure boredom with life.
Robert Zemeckis' new film "Flight" (2012) returns us to the terrain of live action after his three consecutive animated films (two of which were happy movies about Christmas). Here, he makes it clear from the very first scene that this is a far edgier Zemeckis. It is far more graphic and far more emotional than anything we have previously seen from him. The result is on the outside a big budget public service announcement, while on the inside, a film far more complicated than it seems.
"Cloud Atlas" (2012), directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, is a thing of beauty, the likes of which I have not seen in American Cinema. While I regard Rian Johnson's "Looper" as easily the best film of the year thus far, this film might be the best film of the decade. Nevertheless, considering how many people walked out of the screening within the first hour, I suspect that this film will successfully alienate or confuse most of its viewers, earning more appreciation in the years to come, long after most of us have expired. If you have the patience, it might take forty minutes to begin to understand it, and to subsequently immerse yourself into it. In that way, it also reminded me of Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" (2011). It is that good. It is so good that I can tell you everything about this movie, and I will still have told you nothing.
Ben Affleck's "Argo" (2012) is a unique specimen. On the one hand, it is an exciting, suspenseful rescue story. It is his best film, though as a central character he seems to keep directing himself as a mostly expressionless central character. It is, without doubt, thrilling from start to finish. On the other hand, it is a crass cheerleading of ethnocentrism, recalling Menahem Golan's "Delta Force" (1986). As I watched "Argo," part of me was absorbed in the suspense, as though I was wide eyed, with my hand covering my open mouth. Another part of me was thinking that the timing of its release was a bit too perfect, as though I was scratching my head, thinking "Seriously? You're stooping that low?" Still, the film seems to even take that point as a subtle comment about global cinema culture.