This is one of the year’s best movies.
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.
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.
We know that "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982) is the best of all of the "Star Trek" movies. I am not stating anything new here. The rest of the series of films struggled to repeat the mastery of this film, and the reboot has also fallen short, thus far. I did, however, watch Star Trek 2 recently to see if the overlooked "Star Trek: First Contact" was able to take the helm as the Best of the Treks. In the process, however, I realized that Star Trek 2 is a much better movie than I remembered. I invite everyone to watch this movie again to appreciate how great it really is. This is a great movie. It is exciting. It is complex. It is emotional and philosophical. It is one of the great adventure movies.
Rian Johnson's hyperviolent "Looper" (2102) is the smartest movie I have seen in a long time. It has that fearless edge of an independent film, throwing out all the stops. Its masterful plot carefully hides its foreshadows as elements of its constructed universe. It is a science fiction movie with rudiments of mystery, thriller, horror, comedy and even eschatology. So many characters, young and old, were loaded with charisma, sometimes unexpectedly. My fellow critic Nick Allen was correct when he told me not to watch any trailers (too late) and not to let anyone tell me about this movie. Because of its hyperkinetic, volatile unpredictability, I cannot help but to call this movie "crazy." After watching it, you might have to go look at snails for a few hours to calm down. More than that, this movie is clearly one of the best of the year.
Movies usually present the life and religion of conservative masses as that of simple-minded, bigoted country bumpkins. Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" (2012) explores the life and religion of the liberal elite, presenting them as sophisticated frauds eagerly exploiting eagerly exploitable colleagues. If we spoke of "There Will Be Blood" (2007) as "madness," we might accurately speak of this film as "intoxication." And, as is the case with the previous film, "The Master" is amazing in its characterizations, sails us through its cinematography and faded colors, but its narrative confuses us. It is said to be a story about the development of Scientology, but it also recalls Byrne's "The Secret," as well as most every television healer on either side of the Atlantic or Pacific. I don't know that the story is about the religion or the cult leader, as much as it is about the rabid pit-bull he keeps on his leash.
As we race further and faster toward a global war between Christians and Muslims, and as we feel compelled to choose sides, I have to think back to my childhood. One of the blessings of my youth is that my parents raised me in the simple, small life of the South Suburbs of Chicago. When we landed, the overwhelming majority of South Asian immigrants took residence in the North and West sides. The blessing is not that I was raised away from most other Pakistanis and Indians. Rather, that I grew up in a town that boldly, humbly calls itself a "Community of Churches." It is a small town that banned all business on Sundays and prohibited any liquor sales any time of the day or week. And, what becomes more important is that when watching a film like Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven" (2005), I remember my wonderful neighbors, childhood friends, and teachers far more than I remember the television and internet bigots who today masquerade as Christians, no matter how many of them there seem to be.