Friday, December 22, 2006

Night at the Museum

Ben Stiller plays a divorced father with shared custody of his son who feels like he has to compete for his son's respect with mom's new boyfriend. He has had trouble finding his way since the divorce, with several failed career moves and financial troubles. He turns to a job agency to get him a job, any job, when his son tells him maybe he should quit trying to do something extraordinary because maybe he is just an ordinary guy who should go get a job. He is sent to the museum of natural history to be a night watchman.

His first night on the job, he undergoes a trial by fire, and he finds out it is nothing like he expected. Before long, he and his son both find out it is his chance to do something extraordinary and be someone great in the eyes of his son after all.

This is a PG rated film that is very family safe and friendly. It is just a tad corny from an adult perspective but very fun and enjoyable and full of amusing imagination and good clean humor. It promotes family values, interest in learning, and working together. I believe it will do well at the box office and will become a minor family classic for the next few years due to the small number of interesting films with a PG rating.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

A film which covers the turning point for the US in World War II where public support for the war was waning, cash was running low, and how the entire situation changed by a single picture... of soldiers putting up the American flag in Iwojima. Now I know it sounds like a propaganda movie, however it is actually quite an effective assessment of the complexity of war on the ground.

It also looks at the concept of heroism and how the hypocrisy is exposed when soldiers who were in the field are suddenly woven into the war-propaganda-machine. The film is highly critical of how war is sold to the public, the manipulation of emotions, the use of images, words and imagery, all to glorify and promote the good work the soldiers are doing "over there". It does shed light on the truth that there is nothing honorable in killing or being killed.

The acting is pretty good and so is the Directing (Clint Eastwood). The war scenes do look a little like Saving Private Ryan, but then again, it is produced by Steven Spielberg... so expect lotsa blood, lotsa CGI, but it all looks pretty real, nonetheless.

Overall, a good movie to watch albeit not so much for entertainment value than education value. I recommend this one :)


P.S. There is a sister movie "Letters from Iwo Jima", this will be out in 2007.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Pursuit of Happyness

Mom and I went to see this movie last night.

My 4th-grader nephew was with us. For him, it was a bit serious and a bit long, but he said he guessed it was alright. :)

This is "inspired" by a portion of the life of Chris Gardner. If you Google him, you can read about him and get some ideas of the Hollywood liberties taken with the true story. Not nearly as drastically different as the changes Disney made to the "real" story to make Eight Below, but a few differences are to be expected. This is a San Francisco Chronicle article that would give you a good taste.

First of all, it must be said that Will Smith and his son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith both do remarkable acting jobs in this film. Will Smith's Golden Globe nomination for this role is well-deserved. The quality acting really carries the story.

Another strength to this movie is that a person sitting in the audience will, for a brief while at least, really have an inkling of what it feels like to be homeless - and that is something we could all benefit from, to gain empathy of those in need, and perhaps a bit of compassion. Although it is not made a point in the story, if one pays attention, we also see something of the choices people make and the emotions involved that put them in such a dire situation and how they deal with it - how pride can hurt a man and his family and also help them. Thankfully, the telling is neither sapped over nor sensationalized -it feels genuine. But make no mistake that when you think things are bad they can get worse. The audience knew the ending would be a happy one and what a happy one it was, but when Chris Gardner was homeless with his two-year-old son (in the movie, his son is five) he didn't have the luxury of knowing that - he just had the dream.

A weakness is that the story runs long and you start to feel the point has been run into the ground, but it is still compelling. At times, you may find yourself questioning some of the choices made by the hero - could he have done more to improve his situation with a son involved if he swallowed a bit of pride? If you read up on the real Chris, you may find that in some instances he did do more but still had to endure some dark dark nights. On the other hand, you might get through the whole story and not think about it until afterwards - did he have family he could've gone to, friends, church? In truth, not everyone has these lifelines and some just can't bring themselves to ask for help when they need it. He is presented as a hero, but a fully human one who makes mistakes.

Did he have faith in God to pull him through? The real Chris has said a few things to suggest he believes he has a close line to Jesus, as he said, " Jesus loves me. He only likes you.' I don't know him to tell if he intended some humor in there, but he definitely maintains his pride.

From a Muslim perspective, there is a lot going for this movie - to learn about homelessness and feel a bit of it is a good thing. And as a Muslim I found myself thinking about would I trust God and keep faith if everything were taken from me? Would I hold and take solace in the belief that I am in God's care? Would I manage the balance between putting faith in God in desperate times and trying to improve my situation without losing my integrity? I suspect that no one really knows how they will respond to desperate situations until they are in them.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Casino Royale

Well, I think over the years I've seen every James Bond film at one point or another, or pretty close to it.

I had no idea what to expect of this film or the new Bond. I had seen a few previews and was mildly interested. But I came out a big fan of the latest film, which brings new life to the genre.

That being said, I think Daniel Craig is probably the best of all the actors to play James Bond so far. This movie is better and different than the Bond movies of the past 10 or 15 years. It is an origin story - it is about James Bond's first mission as 007. It shows him as being more physical than other Bonds and more human - and that makes him much more intriguing. This version Bond, said to be truer to Ian Fleming's vision, is also capable of more intelligent dialogue. Mr. Craig is a talented actor, and it shows.

The "Bond girl" in this film is also different than others. She is more intelligent than most, contributes more to the plot, and actually has a genuine emotional impact on Bond, although I found the love story to have a bit of weakness to it. It wouldn't be a James Bond movie if the women weren't all "eye candy" - the objectification of women is toned down here compared to some previous films as the women are somewhat more empowered, and double entendres are at a minimum here, but there is a certain expectation of Bond movies that does not go unmet.

"M"'s interaction with Bond in this film is far more interesting than any I can remember from other films. Dame Judi Densch actually has at least a little occasion to demonstrate her acting ability with a real character this time.

The villain in this one, however, was weak and uninspiring, and only mildly interesting. He wasn't the real villain anyway, but by the end of the film Bond seems ready to move up the ladder to tackle some of the bigger fish.

Techno gimmicks and gadgets are not the drivers in this story - a few are present but they are appropriate rather than expensive attempts to wow an audience with the latest and greatest. Instead, the audience is quickly grabbed by a stunning opening action sequence including a memorable display of free running, and the action remains very good throughout.

There are some slow parts in the film and a few mini-twists that might strike as ridiculous but nothing to make you look at your watch or not buy in to the story as a whole. This is a satisfying movie and I hope to see another one with the new Bond Daniel Craig, building on a good beginning here. If you haven't been a fan of other Bond movies, this one could change your mind - unless your disdain is in response to the omnipresent sex and violence of the genre - in that case, stay away.

PG-13 is an appropriate rating, although there are a few particular scenes of violence that are not for the squeamish. Nudity (in a particular Abu-Ghraib-ish torture scene, of Daniel Craig - not so much of the females beyond the typical skin-baring $1000 prom dresses), sexual situations, and violence make this, of course, not a "family film".

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Gangster No.1 (2000)

This is a bit of an old movie, and is directed by Paul McGuigan (Same guy who directed Lucky Number Slevin) however, the two movie's have a sort of polarity in terms of the message they deliver. Both have the theme of Revenge, but where Lucky Number Slevin glorifies the act of revenge, Gangster No.1 shows its utter futility.

Malcolm Mcdowell plays "Gangster 55" an aged head gangster who retells his past and how he came to be in his current situation. Paul Bettany plays a young "gangster 55" and looks eerily like how Malcolm McDowell looked when he starred as the protagonist in the Stanley Kubrick Classic, A Clockwork Orange, in his younger days.

If you look at the movie from an Islamic perspective it does make you question your goals in life... What exactly are you looking to achieve by the actions you commit today? In the movie, all that is glorified in the beginning and looks so Shiny and Brilliant is shown to be a mirage and when the protagonist finally gets to the top, the view is a dull and dreary life of nothing to look for in the past and nothing hopeful in the future. So from an Islamic perspective... the movie does show you the farce of chasing anything material as the ultimate attainment and the ultimate destination.

The movie is definitely not for kids though, a mature audience is preferred if you really want to discuss the crux of the subject matter. I would consider a this a classic movie, somewhere near the top of Gangster and Mafia movies like Goodfella's and The Godfather, but with a different and more attuned message than those movies.

Warning: Rated R, It has strong brutal violence, pervasive language, and brief drug use and nudity.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Guardian

This movie stars Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher. It is a story of Coast Guard rescue swimmers. If this movie gets it right, being a rescue is one of the most hardest, dangerous and heroic jobs of all time and place.

Kevin Costner plays arguably the greatest rescue swimmer of all time on the downside of his career, struggling with recent tragedy. He gets sent to teach recruits for awhile to get him out of the water. In Ashton Kutcher's character, he finds someone much like himself, someone with the potential to carry the torch.

At the end of the movie, some choices are made and you can decide for yourself if Ashton's character carried the torch the way Kevin's wanted to but couldn't. And you'll be left with respect and awe for rescue swimmers.

This movie promotes the ideal of saving lives and at times while watching it I was reminded of the Islamic teaching that saving a life is like saving all of humanity.....

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Watching this, it is clear that Penelope Cruz has been completely wasted by Hollywood.

Her Hollywood career may be a clutch of dull flops, yet in this she is incandescent, her character utterly believable and involving

The basic plot of Volver is two sisters dealing with the death of their mother, but of course, this being an Almodavar film, subjects such as murder, incest and adultery are also featured.

The beauty of Almodovar is that such issues are handled without ever being sensationalised. More then this, his protagonists have a realness to them, they feel like people you've met. Wonderful.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee

This is one of the nicest movies I've seen in a long time. I think everyone should see it, especially with their children. Good for all ages.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


This movie is about several kids who do not get accepted into college. To avoid facing their parents' disappointment, they end up creating a college of their own. It starts with a fake acceptance letter, then a fake website, then a fake campus, and when the website was accidentally made functional, they suddenly have a bunch of students show up at the fake campus for orientation and end up trying to run a real college, albeit a very unorthodox one.

This movie is pretty standard fare but enjoyable. It does promote fraud as "creativity" in a way and general irresponsibility, misuse of parents' money, and so on to a point, etc., but it is pretty obvious even to a young viewer that what they are doing is stupid.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

Nasty, nasty film.

Not recommended unless you want to see people being bitten in horrible places by the aforementioned snakes, and subsequently dying a most unpleasant death.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Miami Vice

This is definitely not a family or kids movie.

And it isn't nearly as fun or even as cool as the television series.

The plot revolves around some sophisticated crime and some stupid and not-believable gratuitious lust. It is a violent movie - reminds me of the violent rated R movies so common a decade ago.

I didn't hate it but I didn't love it, it was just kind of there, it was kind of interesting and quite dark.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

The humor in this movie involves bad language, abusive behavior of children toward elders, and sex.

There is some more benign humor as well.

I didn't find this movie really all that funny. I like stupid movies if they are funny, but for me this one wasn't really, and I was embarrassed that my nieces were watching it.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean II

Not writing a review, but just thought I'd see if we could discuss.

I thought this movie was just plain good fun. What did others think?

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Mom, Laura, me and the kids went to see Click tonight. It has some standard Adam Sandler humor in it, but it is pretty different than a lot of his previous movies. There is a moral to this story big time and it made me cry. It is a really sweet story. Man, Adam Sandler movies always have such nostalgic music in them that make me think of my childhood..... But, that's not what brings tears, you'd have to see it yourself, I would recommend it. Some of the humor is just a bit mature (or maybe immature) so you might want to preview it before taking your kids.

Here's one of its favorable reviews (not everyone liked it, of course):

Fast-forwarding through life is fun. But it can also give a guy pause.
- Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic
Friday, June 23, 2006

Click: Comedy-drama. Starring Adam Sandler and Kate Beckinsale. Directed by Frank Coraci. (PG-13. 115 minutes. At Bay Area theaters.)

Maybe Adam Sandler and his team intended to make a serious movie, and maybe they didn't, but in "Click" they've made one, all right, one of the best American films of the year so far. The filmmakers take what might have been just a gimmicky premise and pursue it meticulously, following wherever it leads. Along the way, they create a shrewd and moving metaphor for the way people live their lives in 21st century America.
That Sandler should appear in one of the year's best movies is astonishing enough. What's more astonishing is that he's good in it. For once he doesn't play a self-satisfied imbecile that we're supposed to regard as a savant, or a complacent slob who's right and everybody else is wrong. Instead, he's an ambitious family man, a talented architect who is slaving at the office and putting in late hours in the hope of someday making partner and achieving financial security.

With all the pressures at work, he finds himself resenting his family obligations as suffocating, even though his wife (Kate Beckinsale) is loving and accommodating, his kids are adorable, and his parents (Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner) are no trouble at all. He wants to work and get ahead and then finally start living, and soon he gets a chance to put his wishes into action.

He goes to the store to buy a universal remote for all his home electronics and is given a brand-new one by a mysterious inventor. The fact that the inventor is played by Christopher Walken should give him pause, but it doesn't, so he takes it home. There he finds that it not only works on the television but that he can use it to silence a barking dog. When he has to walk his dog, he can fast-forward through the boring parts. He can even fast-forward through a spat with his wife.

The seductiveness of the remote works on the audience as well as on the character, which is the beauty of the conceit. Who wouldn't want to fast-forward through a traffic jam? Or fast-forward through desk work? I'm five paragraphs into this review and would be very tempted to fast-forward ahead four paragraphs. But if we had the power to bypass every bit of labor, tedium or unpleasantness in our lives, how much would we actually bother to live? And how much would we lose as a result of not experiencing the process of living? Maybe a lot, or everything.

The point "Click" is making is simple but sharp and effective: That's what many of us are doing, even without the remote control, just going through the motions, digging in, pursuing our goals in the time-honored American way, but so fixated that we're barely present. The movie makes a crucial distinction, one that turns "Click" into a near-great movie instead of a routine piece of garbage: When our hero, Michael (Sandler), presses that remote, he doesn't change reality. He only changes his own perception of it. Thus, when he hits fast-forward, things aren't really going faster, but rather his consciousness is going away and then returning at a later point in time. The joke isn't on everybody else. The joke is on him.

While everyone else, for example, is experiencing a family dinner, he's floating through it on autopilot, functioning but not present. In that way, the magical premise becomes, for writers Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe, not an end in itself, but the jumping-off point for a story about the consequences of the autopilot approach to life.

The magical element creates opportunities for visual flourishes, which the movie executes with aplomb. In the flashback scenes, live action is mixed with computer graphics to make Winkler and Kavner appear to be in their 30s. In scenes of the future, the 2020s are accounted for by differences in interior design, car design and license plates. Everything is handled with subtlety and intelligence, enhancing the story without calling attention to itself.

The remote is basically a DVD remote, with a menu that pops up as a hologram around the protagonist, another nice visual effect. The menu is for the DVD that's his life, for the life story that he's in the process of creating. That, in itself, is an interesting metaphor, because it speaks to a belief in self-improvement, a faith that life can be made into something magnificent -- and a concomitant narcissism that can infect such naive confidence. It's much more of an American than a European thing to see one's life as a movie.

Director Frank Coraci seamlessly blends comedy and drama, finding the right balance by ignoring genre convention and just telling the story. He gets a performance out of Sandler that I didn't know he had in him.

-- Advisory: Crude humor, sexual situations.

E-mail Mick LaSalle at

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©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Paradise Now

So Netflix finally got around to sending me this flick, and we had a nice family viewing of it.

Summary from the official website:

"PARADISE NOW" follows two Palestinian childhood friends who have been recruited for a strike on Tel Aviv and focuses on their last days together. When they are intercepted at the Israeli border and separated from their handlers, a young woman who discovers their plan causes them to reconsider their actions.

This is the Palestinian response to Munich. Not literally, of course, but it tackles many of the same issues Munich tried to in describing the characters and lives of people who are willing to kill for their country. The two friends volunteered to become suicide bombers as long as they would be able to die together. The leader of the resistance group contacts them suddenly, telling them that they've been selected for an attack the next day. They get one last night with their families, whom they're not even allowed to tell about their plans or even say goodbye to.

The one important difference in the two films is that there is not one violent scene in the entirety of Paradise Now (except for a brief scuffle between the two friends). The genius of this film is that it is able to convey a human real-ness that you would expect to be impossible to find in a movie about two would-be suicide bombers. One of the key factors to that relatability is the presence of Suha, the daughter of a famed martyr who was raised in Morocco (aka Maghreb). She brings the "Western" point of view into the story, or at least the idealistic version of it. Her dialogue contains all the thoughts of every Western (Muslim or otherwise) sympathizer to the Palestinian cause: Suicide bombing cannot be the only solution. This cannot truly be a moral war until the violence stops on one end.

It's a film that definitely makes you think. Especially when given the main characters' responses to these points. Khaled says, "We are already dead. And I would rather go to that heaven than live in this hell." Said's position gives a broader insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "They say that they are the victims. If the oppressors have become the victims, then the victims must become murderers." (I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember the exact quote)

The one thing that's missing in this movie is a motive. We are given some personal motivations for these two specific characters, but they seem a little flimsy. There is no singular event (as there was in Munich with the death of the Olympic team) that seems to trigger the desire to kill for their country. Or at least it isn't shown to us. The film presents the conflict as a feud that has been running for generations and neither side really knows how it started anymore.

The best quality of the film was it's presentation of likeable characters. Despite knowing that they are suicide bombers in the making, you feel like these guys could have been your friends, the kind who you sit around and smoke hookah with and talk about your crappy jobs. It made me sad about the Palestinian conflict in a way I haven't felt since they released that footage of the Palestinian boy being shot by Israeli gunfire right before his father's eyes.

All in all, it's a movie worth taking 90 minutes to watch.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

finally got around to writing one of these.. (sorry Masooma!)

I am probably one of very few Muslims who actually went out and paid money to watch this movie, but as a self-proclaimed movie buff, I felt it necessary to defend my title. My first mistake was in not realizing that this was, after all, a cowboy movie. I don't like cowboy movies. Second, I'm not a big fan of sappy romance either. There's two strikes. I'm just presenting you with my biases before I let you know what I really thought.

The opening was very slow. Pretty much a staring contest between two very good looking men (if I do say so myself) which wasn't too bad from an eye-candy point-of-view but rather pointless and boring, in general. The two men are looking for jobs and end up tending sheep on Brokeback Mountain together and slowly fall into love (or lust, depending on your definition). They have the talkative and sensitive Jack Twist (the classic 'wife') and the quiet and reserved Ennis (the dominant partner). The fact that the writers so cleanly classified certain behaviors as masculine or feminine was rather irritating for me from a feminist point-of-view. Later, when they part ways and end up marrying women and raising families, Jack is shown as an ineffectual husband, and a person with a weak will and it is implied that this is because he is 'feminine' or subordinate and needs a "man" to support him.

They did try to avoid any stereotypical 'gay' behavior, though (as far as cleanliness, fashion sense or show tunes are involved) and kept any explicit scenes between the two men to a minimum. The two love scenes were mostly in the dark and only about a minute or two long each though there were about 4 or 5 kissing scenes. There were love scenes between each man and his wife as well which were considerably more graphic.

The story and plot were lacking, but the acting was very well done. Ennis' wife (played by Michelle Williams from Dawson's Creek) does an exceptional job in creating a sympathetic female character in this movie centered around the love between two men. The dialogue could have used some work too.
"I wish I knew how to quit you"? Delivered in a Texan accent?? Save me from the cheese. PLEASE.

And with all romantic films there must, of course, be some tragic angst because we all know that true love was never meant for senior citizens. All in all, this film played out like any 90's drama romance (like Legends of the Fall or Before Sunrise) with the female lead substituted for a male instead. I didn't find anything orginal about the story or anything that might create a precedent or establish a brand new genre for any other films about 'alternate lifestyles'.

As you can tell, I can't understand why it would win (or even be nominated) for Best Picture or Best Screenplay, but I will admit that it wasn't quite as bad as I thought it would be.

For a more entertaining film about an unconventional love affair, I suggest Memoirs of a Geisha.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


I hated Munich. Because of all of the hype about the film I was looking forward to something new, perhaps even something slightly balanced. A very convenient controversy indeed. Zionists saying that Munich is unbalanced in favor of Palestine seems to legitimize the "non-bias" of the film. I had high hopes considering the hullabaloo. Was Zionist criticism of Munich just a ploy, my inner voice asks. Supposedly, Munich actually showed some sensitivity to Palestinian history and to what occurs in Occupied Palestine to this very day, which made pro-Zionists mad. Exactly which part of Munich was sensitive towards Palestine, I don't know. The film should have been titled “Nearly Three Hours of American Zionist Propaganda.”

The synopsis: Terror prone Palestinians force moral, righteous Israeli Jews to lose their humanity since Israelis must use unscrupulous tactics to fight and kill Palestinians.

Storyline: Some crazy multiple necklace wearing, Seventies Afro-sporting, side burned Palestinian terrorists, unorganized and whacky-disco looking as they are, take hostage some buff, brave Israeli Olympians in Munich in 1972. Everyone present dies, and moral and righteous Golda Meier commissions a hit squad to bump off the Palestinians thought to have had a hand in organizing the Munich incident. The clothes and scenery are so authentic to the Seventies that it actually brings you there down the pant leg of a pair of bell bottoms. An Israeli pant leg, not a Palestinian one. There was no cohesive explanation of how or why Palestinians would do such an ugly thing. Something about releasing prisoners whom Israel holds for security reasons, mentioned in a sentence long news clip. No light shed on the Zionist colonization of a land that had already belonged to someone else. Scarce mention of Palestinian refugees and the endless calculated Israeli military aggression.

We meet Avner, a hot looking, muscular, side burn sporting Israeli husband and father, and watch him and his hit squad pals lose their humanity and sanity as they compromise their Jewish moral values by being circumstantially forced to kill some shady Palestinians. Among the shady Palestinians are a well-spoken professor, a bitter to be in exile bourgeois dad, and a chatty, red-checked headdress and disco-suit wearing man who gabs with strangers on hotel balconies. All of these Palestinians give the impression that they are thoroughly intelligent and likeable guys. But of course, you can’t trust a Palestinian since even those in sheep’s clothing are wolves. These sophisticated, articulate, seemingly normal men are all secretly involved in terrorism. The message is less than subtle. The film is balanced only by the fact that one of the Israeli hit squad members has a little Afro-puff, too.

Throughout the film we get huge doses of Zionist propaganda: Palestine didn’t exist as a nation state before Israel was created. Palestine is just a bunch of olive trees in rocky soil so why do Palestinians want their land back so badly? Just give it up, you sods! Why don’t other Arab nations absorb the Palestinian people? Other Arabs don’t give a crap about Palestine and they only care about Israel because they hate Jews so much. Palestinians want to see Israel destroyed. Jews need a homeland. Jews need a homeland even more because of the Holocaust. Palestinian resistance to Israel has parallels to what happened to Jews during the Holocaust. Even Europe hated its Jews, so Israel is the only answer to keeping Jews safe. Jews outside of Israel are homeless Jews. Palestinians are fighting for Palestine because of some illegitimate esoteric notion of homeland, when it is Jews who really need a homeland in Israel. The Israeli government is ultimately good and hates having its arm twisted into the dirty job of occupation, expulsion, oppression, and murder of Palestinians. Palestinians are terrorists. Israel is likeable; Israelis are recognizably Western and good. Palestine is abhorrent; Palestinians are distastefully foreign and bad.

Basically, this is more of the same ole' same ole’ message that Zionists have been propagating for decades. Unfortunately since average American audiences never get an alternative message to this one, Munich is just reinforcement propaganda. Note that the film, which has been called “balanced,” only gives one line snippets and sound bytes from the Palestinian perspective, but gives hours of Israeli propaganda. Where-oh- where was the Palestinian side of the story in this movie? If this film were truly balanced it would have also addressed the story of Palestine from a Palestinian perspective and perhaps shown more than a single clip of the Arab land. Aside from a couple of scenes of the Palestinian reaction to the hostage crisis in Munich at the beginning of the film, and the men assassinated by the Israeli hit squad, there are NO Palestinians in the entire film. But the film was supposedly lauded as being balanced? Wait, there was a Palestinian perspective. One of the assassinated Palestinian guys, the only hot looking Afro-free one, is used as a manipulative tool. He, the film’s Palestinian voice, is used to reiterate the same ole’ same ole’ message of Zionist propaganda mentioned above. I know there aren’t a lot of good cash making roles for Arab dudes in Hollywood, even cute dudes like the one who played that character. But Arab dudes in Hollywood, how can you accept such roles and further the Zionist cause? Where the heck are your ethics?

Speaking of ethics, according to Munich, only Israelis really have them, and Avner struggles with losing his. Near to the end of the film there is this really grotesque sex scene that should have been edited out. Basically, Avner is bombarded with images of what must have happened in Munich at the Olympics while going at it with his spouse. The scene was icky, eeewh, gross, bleh, disgusting, simulation of rape-like, and just plain weird. It was supposed to symbolize how Avner has lost his ability to connect with his wife and family due to his experience as an assassin. This was the toll of the conflict on his personal life. Instead it made me as a female audience member feel really uncomfortable.

Anyhow, the plot of the film Munich is tired and trite. Yep, WE KNOW! War is bad. People who experience the violence of wars and conflicts get messed up in the brain. Good people suffer and lose their scruples. That is not a new story or a new movie plot. (The horror, the horror…) The lack of genuine sensitivity towards the Palestinian side of this particular conflict is not new either. Nor was any of the Zionist propaganda. Basically, it was just more of the same ole’ crapola.

Originally Published at LuckyFatima

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lady Vengeance

Dark is an overused adjective in film reviewing, a lazy way of describing any film where the protagonists do not smile much and the weather is bad.

Yet dark is still the primary adjective in describing this, the third film in Chan-Wook Park's Vengeance trilogy. The subject of this part deals with the aftermath of the kidnappping and murder of a young boy and the plan for revenge by the woman wrongly imprisioned for the crime. Yeong-ae Lee produces a truly mesmerising performance in the main role. She is able to portray Geum-ja Lee as conflicted character plotting for revenge, yet ultimately striving for redemption, finding the former far easier to achieve than the latter.

It is to be hoped that this film is never the subject of a Holywood remake (although, Old Boy, the second film in the trilogy has been remade in Bollywood), as sadly it would probably be converted into a bland thriller and the complex lead character whittled into a cypher.

So much thought as gone into this film, from the opening titles onwards. Each shot feels carefully composed with visuals that will be remembered long after the film has finished. It is not an easy film to watch, but a memorable one, nonetheless.

Content: Some very strong scenes of violence and a sexual nature.

Monday, March 13, 2006


There is something metronomic about Syriana. A heady mix of corporate corruption, arms dealing and international relations, this film is very evenly, in fact rather slowly paced, yet never dull.

It's an ensemble piece and there are many strands to the plot, not all of which can be appreciated in a first viewing. George Clooney, looking ten days since showering and ten months from a heart attack, won an Oscar for his role, yet all the acting is of an equally high quality so he doesn't particularly stand out. There is a tautness to the script, no words are wasted and characters manage to convey a great deal in very few sentences.

The cinematography in this film is excellent, eschewing gloss for a gritty feel. You can almost smell what is happening on screen and the imaginative shot work makes the film more involving still.

The issues in this film feel very up to the minute (Iran features heavily) and are discussed in a fairly even handed manner.

However, the plot line involving Muslims is sadly stereotypical and feels like an unnecessary plot device, jarring with the realpolitick tone of the rest of the film.

Also, it is unfortunate that the very cheap cliche of having the Athan play as the opening soundtrack was utilised. The use of the call to prayer as signifier of film-set-in-Middle-East by the American fim industry is both lazy and offensive.

Unfortunately the simple truth is, if as Muslims we want to be portrayed accurately in films, we are going to have to make these films ourselves.

Content:Strong language, some graphic violence.

Failure to Launch

Failure to Launch is Hollywood’s latest attempt at a romantic comedy, starring big box office draws Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker. McConaughey plays a charismatic 35-year-old son perfectly content to live with his parents indefinitely, but his parents want him to move out on his own. They hire Sarah Jessica Parker’s character to pretend to date their son in a tried-and-true scheme to get him to move out. But, as can be expected in a romantic comedy, girl falls for guy, guy gets upset at being conned, guy turns out to have reasons for staying at home girl didn’t know about that cause her plan to fail, and guy ultimately forgives girl and they hook up. In the mean time there is a lot of ridiculous comedy involving animal bites, paint guns, etc.

If you’re willing to just have a good time and ignore some inane dialogue and monumentally unfounded jumps in plot and character development, you can have a lot of fun watching this movie.

There is little to redeem this movie when looking at it from a Muslim ethical standpoint. Rampant fornication and deceit are central to the plot and character development – the whole story is based on these two things, because apparently Hollywood finds such things necessary for romance and humor.


Millions is a British film that tells the story of a two young brothers who move to a new residence with their dad after the death of their mom. One day, the youngest brother, playing outside, is struck by a bag full of more than 200,000 British pounds in currency.

Convinced that the money came from God, he sets out to try to find ways to help the poor, while his brother attempts to find more practical uses for the money and keep his sibling out of trouble.

They have only a week to use the money because the changeover to Euros is at hand and soon any old currency will be worthless if not turned in for Euros. The money turns out to have a shady source that means danger for the boys and ethical challenges for the family over how to deal with the money.

With an ambiguous ending, this film won’t knock your socks off but it is a cute story that opens the question of what is one’s moral responsibility in dealing with found money.

This could be a nice movie for a young Muslim family to watch together. In terms of potentially objectionable content, the widower father finds a new potential girlfriend and sleeps with her, but nothing is shown.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is based on a novel that tells the classic teen girl coming-of-age story. Four girls, friends their whole lives, are about to spend their first summer apart at age 16. They find a pair of jeans that magically fits all of them even though they are different sizes. They decide that while they are apart, they will share the pants, each wearing them for a week and sending them on to the next person with a letter about what happened while wearing them.

This is the vehicle for telling the stories of what happens to each during the summer. One girl visits her grandparents in Greece and experiences forbidden love that helps her to come out of her shell. Another girl aggressively stalks a young soccer coach at soccer camp until he becomes her first, after which she is left feeling empty, realizing that sleeping around cannot replace the love of her dead mother. A third girl finds a terminally-ill 12-year-old neighbor attached to her as she works on a film project. The friendship gives her a less cynical perspective of the world. Finally, the fourth girl goes to visit her dad to find out he is remarrying into an instant family and she struggles with his ability to parent kids that aren’t his while he was never able to be there for her while she was growing up.

This movie has nothing to offer a Muslim audience. The stories of the girls with the film project and the girl trying to come to terms with her dad’s new relationships would have made a fine movie. But the addition of the other two stories ruins the appeal because they turn the movie into a teen dating and fornication movie. While the movie does not show a lot visually nor does it glorify premarital sex, it regards it as par for the course as part of the coming-of-age of a teenage girl.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lucky Number Slevin

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Bruce Willis and Lucy Liu

This film tries very hard to be more than a Saturday popcorn-standard thriller. Quality cast, lots of snazzy camera work and a script laden with pop-culture references, the latter being what passes for wit in our media-saturated age.

However, the key to any good thriller is the plot and this film is equipped with plot holes you could drive a van through without scratching the paintwork. The characters, while laden with quirks, Ben Kinglsey, for example is a Rabbi/Gangster boss, fail to convince and therefore do not engage the viewer.

It is against the (Hollywood) law to have a pretty person like Josh Hartnett in a film without giving him a love interest and this role falls to Lucy Liu who is here to do little more than provide a partner for the requisite make out scene.

Hartnett does the inscrutable/wooden thing well in order to try to conceal the twist, but you will have guessed what has happened long before the exposition speech.

That's the real problem here. A true thriller is a deft work of trickery, dazzling the viewer but not letting them in on the secret until the right moment. This film is too burdened with stale plot devices such as the eccentric gangster, key traumatic childhood event and random romance to ever achieve the necessary fleetness of foot.

Content: Contains strong language, violence, scenes of a sexual nature and Josh Hartnett in a towel for very long periods of time.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Crash Wins Best Picture: Re-examining Crash

As I reside overseas, I watch Oprah on MBC 4 (a Saudi based TV channel) whenever I get a chance. MBC shows the previous season’s Oprahs, so they are always a little behind. I happened to catch the episode in which Oprah featured the cast of the movie Crash. Crash deals with underlying racism and prejudice in American society, and she and the cast of the film discussed those issues. She also had regular people come and confess to prejudiced behavior. I think that Crash was a good movie because in our era of political correctness, racial issues get swept under the rug with an everything-is-fine smile. Still, I felt that the movie had a lot of painful-to-watch contrived dialogue. Crash dealt with the white/black issue well, and even threw in a positive Mexican American character for good measure. Positive Mexican American characters are a rarity in Hollywood, but this character had a lot of dialogue that would definitely fall into the contrived category. Personally I was very critical of the way that the Asian and Middle Eastern characters were portrayed. Though the black and white characters had a lot of depth, the Korean and Persian characters were practically cartoons. Due to grueling, decades long work by certain minority advocacy groups, it is rare though not impossible to find the same deeply offensive portrayals of former times. People from ethnic groups which have a long history of activism against negative media images, like Jewish and African American groups, are examples of this. However, as Asian and Middle Eastern Americans weren’t a significant population in North America until after the 1970s, these groups have a shorter history in the country and lack the power and organizational clout of groups who have a longer established history in the US. Therefore, it is rare to hear loud voices standing up to negative and stereotyped images of South and East Asians and Middle Easterners. Also, the broader public is less sensitive to stereotyped images of people from these groups and probably don’t even recognize them as problematic or offensive. In Crash, the main Iranian character was an overly emotional Middle Eastern man, a confused foreigner who acts on instinct and feelings rather than on logic. Anyone who has studied Orientalist portrayals of Middle Easterners will recognize this character right away, for he pops up in both news and entertainment media from time to time. He is the same Iranian man from The House of Sand and Fog, and the same angry, emotive Arab crying or beating his chest on the nightly news. The Korean characters were typical “inscrutable Asians.” One was involved in organized crime (human trafficking), hence he was the Asian gangster who shows up in primetime cop shows along with the greasy haired Colombian drug lord, the unscrupulous Jewish diamond dealer, the irrational Arab terrorist, or the swaggering black male gangsta---come on, you know you have seen these guys from Miami Vice to CSI. The woman was the Dragon Lady. She was a shrewd bitch packed in a miniature frame, but screaming in a loud, choppily accented voice. She is another cartoon from the Canon of Oriental Females of Hollywood, along with the sexy massage parlor prostitute or the Good Earth farmer’s dutiful wife. Anyway, the movie Crash got people talking about the race issue again, which is a good thing. But I just wish that the non-black and non-white roles had more depth because America is not just black and white. The Oprah episode wasn’t earth shattering, but I think having regular people come and confess their prejudices was constructive because it fosters self-examination. We all try our best to be tolerant and open-minded, but it is hard to get away from internalized racist ideas. I was raised in an environment in which open prejudice towards more visible minorities like African Americans or Jews or Latinos (Latinos are very visible in Texas, my home state, anyway) was not tolerated at all. Note the emphasis on open, because we really do have a long way to go. However, being a Muslim has made me scrutinize in depth the history of stereotyped images of Muslims and Arabs, as well as other less visible minorities. Just like everyone else, I grew up with childhood movies and bed time stories about Aladdin and Sheherezadeh, and pantalooned harem girl tales. I had heard of fat, oil-rich sheikhs. I had seen Not Without My Daughter, and the day time talk shows in which white women came on TV and talked about being abused by daft, backward Middle Easterners. At the time I was exposed to those things, I was a child and I was not a Muslim. So, I too was implicitly raised to be prejudiced against Muslims. ALL Americans and Westerners are exposed to these images and have been since the Reconquista and the Crusades, they just don’t recognize these images as racist or offensive and accept them as part of everyday life. That sounds like a very strange statement unless you show parallels between Orientalist portrayals of Muslims and older portrayals of say, blacks or Jews. A story about a tar baby is just as damaging as story about a fantasy harem slave girl. A Mammy Doll is just as bad as a Genie in a Bottle. The wide spread European myth of old that Jews used the blood of Christian children in their Passover rituals is just as offensive and damaging as today's myth that Muslims are naturally violent and bloodthirsty and long to kill "infidels" due to our religion. All of these images otherize and demonize. They separate the us and them, making the “them” exotic and sub-human. The “them” are easy to discriminate against and in worst case scenarios, easier to wipe off of the face of the earth if they are thought of in exotic and less than human terms. These ugly things should be stamped out of our culture if we truly believe in tolerance and equality as American ideals. Unfortunately, Crash wasn’t as kind to some minority characters as it was to others, though based on the apparent message of the movie, it should have been. I’d like to share this to the writers of Crash. Think they’ll ever stop by this blog??? :)

An earlier version of this review appeared at luckyfatima.

Friday, March 03, 2006


Summary from
Little Red Riding Hood: A classic story, but there's more to every tale than meets the eye. In this retelling of the fable, the story begins at the end of the tale and winds its way back. Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) and Detective Bill Stork (Anthony Anderson) investigate a domestic disturbance at Granny's (Glenn Close) cottage, involving a karate kicking Red Riding Hood (Anne Hathaway), a sarcastic wolf (Patrick Warburton) and an oafish woodsman (Jim Belushi). The charges are many: breaking and entering, disturbing the peace, intent to eat, wielding an axe without a license, but these unusual suspects have a tale to tell first.

General commentary:

Rating: PG

This is a twist on the Brother’s Grimm fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. When Red arrives home and finds the Wolf in Granny’s place, a few strange things happen and then officials arrive to investigate the crime scene. Red, the Wolf, Granny, and the Woodsman each tell their story from their own perspectives and provide humorous, creative twists to the plot.

This is a creative movie. It seems to try a little too hard to be hip or cool, kind of like Kill Bill. I found the story occasionally funny and intellectually enjoyed the creativity of the plot. My elementary-aged nieces and nephew thought it would be boring but they generally liked it, especially the spastic squirrel and the yodeling billy goat.

I would recommend catching it on DVD.

Content commentary:

Language: Sarcasm and attitude for character development and humor.

Violence: Minor cartoon violence. Suggestions of evil (plots to take over the world, etc.)

Relationships: Benign relationships.

Other: none

Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe

Summary from

Based on the classic novel by CS Lewis, four London children are sent to a professor's country home for protection during World War II. There they find a magical wardrobe which leads to a mystical land called Narnia, that is being ruled by an evil witch. The land is being kept in a perpetual winter by the evil White Witch, Jadis, who turns anyone who doesn't obey her into stone. The children join Aslan and the animals loyal to him in an attempt to vanquish Jadis. To defeat the Witch, they must wage a great battle between good and evil.

General commentary:

Rating: PG

All of the Chronicles of Narnia books are somewhat allegorical for various aspects of Christian theology. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe presents the lion Aslan as allegorical for Jesus and proceeds to tell a passion play of the sacrifice and resurrection of Aslan. The story is told through the eyes of the children who are rather comparable to disciples.

People not aware of C.S. Lewis as well as most children would likely watch the films as fantasy without any awareness of the allegory. Neither the books nor the movie present as proselytizing so in that aspect I don't think it would be objectionable to a Muslim audience, and can be enjoyed as simply decent story-telling with the possibility for some moral or philosophical lessons.

I found the movie worth watching in the theater and visually beautiful, but the over-all product didn’t knock my socks off.

Content commentary:

Language: I don’t remember any particularly objectionable language in this film, but there was some strong language in the context of evil and violence.

Violence: Violence in this movie includes cruelty, torture, murder, and warfare. Although fanciful due to the nature of the imaginary creatures sometimes involved, the violence is realistic and can be frightening at times.

Relationships: Sexual suggestion between adult and child could possibly be inferred although it could be interpreted in other ways.

Other: none

The Pink Panther

Summary from
Steve Martin re-imagines the role of Inspector Clouseau, a man whose deductive powers are limited, whose command of the language is hideous and whose investigative approach is downright dangerous. But somehow - in spite of himself - he always gets his man. In this remake a world famous soccer coach has just lead the French team to victory over Team China. Surrounded by grateful fans and an international pop star, the coach is killed by a poison dart. In the ensuing panic a priceless ring, "The Pink Panther," mysteriously disappears. Clouseau and his new assistant are saddled with the case, which leads them around the world to New York City and a maze of suspects, thugs, bandits and secret agents. Co-stars Kevin Kline, Beyonce Knowles and Jean Reno.

General commentary:

Rating: PG

If you enjoyed the original Pink Panther movies or if you like slapstick comedy then you will enjoy this film. Clouseau is a well-intentioned but dim-witted character trying to catch a murderer. Personally, I would recommend it as worth seeing in the theater or DVD.

Content commentary:

Language: I don’t remember any particularly objectionable language in this film.

Violence: Violence in this movie includes use of guns, commission of crimes, murder, etc., but it is unrealistic and humorously portrayed.

Relationships: Heavy sexual innuendo and sexual slapstick humor takes place in Pink Panther.

Other: Alcohol consumption occurs in the film but it is a detail and not a significant part of the story.

Eight Below

The film tells the story of a scientific expedition that leaves behind their team of beloved sled dogs in Antarctica. During the winter, the dogs must struggle for survival alone. This is VERY loosely based on the true story of a 1957 Japanese team to Antarctica that had to leave behind a sled dog team. Rating: PG

General commentary:

This movie is way too long for what it is. It is a solid two hours and many of the scenes are too drawn out. This isn’t a feel-good happy kids movie, either. Many of the scenes are written and carried out to make the audience cry. There are some happy scenes and cute scenes but the overall tone of the movie communicated to me was one of despair and sadness. It was not a terrible movie, but if you want to see it I would recommend waiting until it hits the dollar theaters, DVD, or cable television.

Content commentary:

Language: I don’t remember any particularly objectionable language in this film.

Violence: There is no human violence in this movie. There are, however, some scenes of death and injury to animals through accident or attacks of other animals, etc.

Relationships: There are some references to dating relationships in this movie and casual kissing, holding hands, etc., between dating couples.

Other: Obviously this is a movie about dogs. People have contact with the dogs and get najis from certain contact with the dogs. I don’t think that is a problem but I suppose some people might want to know……