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Cairo Time

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****

I’d open a coffee shop for women only.

This is an interesting movie. If it were only about two adults who turn out to be In The Mood For Love, then this would have been a bittersweet movie. But this movie also offers a glimpse into Egyptian life. More than that, it shows Egypt without judging or offering glib solutions to what westerners see as problems.

Patricia Heaton and Alexander Siddig on a great pyramid. Copyright Foundry Films

Patricia Heaton and Alexander Siddig on a great pyramid. Copyright Foundry Films

Juliette Grant—Patricia Heaton—arrives in Cairo to meet her husband, Mark—Tom McCamus. Mark is more or less a MacGuffin. Instead of meeting her at the airport, Mark’s friend and former colleague, Tareq—Alexander Siddig, Dr. Julian Bashir from Star Trek Deep Space 9—greets her on his behalf. It turns out that they worked at the UN together and Mark is stuck at his Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza. As they leave Tareq is greeted by a woman, Yasmeen–Amina Annabi, who invites them to her daughter’s wedding in Alexandria. Over the ensuing days Juliette learns about Cairo first hand and Mark still fails to appear. The relationship that develops between Juliette and Tareq is a complicated one, but beautiful in the way of Mrs. Chan and Chow Mo-Wan’s in In The Mood For Love, or the one in Lost in Translation. Again, if this movie were set in Des Moines it would be worth watching.

However, Cairo Time takes place almost exclusively in Mumbai. Okay that was a lie, it takes place mostly in Cairo. Five years I would have thought this could have been in Cairo, Tehran, Riyadh, or even Islamabad, but I have actually been to Cairo and studied Egyptian Law (for a week). Several things jumped out to me about how Juliette looked and behaved in her first forays into Cairo alone—her just below the knee skirt, her short sleeve shirt, her lack of a male companion, and her pale white skin. Eventually she gets a gang of oglers who violate her personal space. That was consistent with my understanding of Cairo, as was the mix of outfits ranging from western—like Yasmeen’s—to full on black burkas. Into this environment Tareq is her hero, not that Juliette is merely passive. Upon learning that Mark is even further delayed she boards a bus for Gaza. This produces a tense encounter when the bus is stopped by members of the Israeli Defense Force. As the only American on the bus, she is treated at first with open distrust that turns to a modicum of respect. What she did was foolhardy, but broke the conventions of the hapless undercover princess rules that could have confined her. Juliette speaks her mind, like about the youthful beggars whom Tareq would just tell off. When Juliette says, “it seems like no-one cares,” Tareq does not unnaturally take on the mantle of the westernized Egyptian, instead he simply says, “it’s complicated.” Thankfully, so is the movie.

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The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

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****

That’s not true guys, ‘cus there is a bone in your penis, that’s why they call it a boner.

A common affliction of teen movies is that their characters talk like they have some insight or feelings that no-one that age truly has. In this one the teenagers speak in the same language that normal teens do. They have the same horny aspirations, same crazy ideas, same troubles with teachers and people of the opposite sex as regular teens.

In her sock is a folded up poem

Jena Malone as Margie Flynn, Copyright Egg Pictures

The events appear to take place in the mid 1970’s at a Catholic school with Catholic school children. This group of four boys is working on making their own comic book—”The Atomic Trinity.” The boys are Francis, Emile Hirsch as the talented artist with the narrative in his head, Tim, Kieran Culkin as the devious, yet faithful friend, who masterminds their pranks, Joey–Tyler Long–is the one who shares too much and exposes himself to his friends’ mockery and Wade–Jake Richardson–is the other one. Francis is really the star though. He has a crush on Margie Flynn—Jena Malone, who looks younger in 2002 than she did in 2001. Margie gets an interesting back story that repeatedly surprised me. Francis has to deal with something she tells him, which provided an interesting acting challenge. That Jodie Foster–Sister Assumpta–and Vincent D’Onofrio–Father Casey–excelled is unsurprising, but that the teenagers did so well impressed me.

Atomicaltar_boys

While I could focus on the loose ends of the story, or how certain things were never explained, I think that the kids’ comic book, “The Atomic Trinity”, is more interesting. As a reader of comic books, I was surprised to see white teenagers casting themselves as non-white heroes. In the comic they transform themselves from their weak teenage forms into Brakken, The Muscle/Skeleton Boy, Major Screw and Asskicker. Brakken is like an Ent with branches that can grow. The Muscle is very strong and looks dark brown. Major Screw is white, but has large destructive drills for hands. And Asskicker is a black guy with spikes on his boots. They are similar to an Images comics type group/story from the mid 1990’s. When they get joined by Francis’ imagined version of Margie, as a sword wielding queen, they do battle against the one legged nun/witch. It is interesting enough without appearing to be more mature than a budding teenage author could create, kind of like the movie as a whole.

Run Ricky Run

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**½

Despite the name, this documentary has almost nothing to do with Run, Lola Run. The one connection that pops to mind is that these are both films about choices. Ricky Williams made choices that many American sports fans found hateful. Ricky Williams chose to retire early from the NFL. He was instantly more hated for that than he ever was for vehicular manslaughter. The American sports fan’s reasoning being that anyone can kill another human being with a car by accident, but almost none of us can play in the NFL. He also left a lot of money on the table. This touches on another interesting American sports fan issue—team loyalty. When a team cuts a player fans do not tend to mind, this means that said player will get replaced by a hopefully better player. Even if that player is only replaceable because of injuries or age incurred through service to that team. But when players hold out for more money—almost done universally by players who cannot be thrown aside, they get criticized for it. Run Ricky Run sums this up with a scene where the filmmaker, Sean Pamphilon, reminds a Dolphin fan—wearing a Ricky Williams jersey in 2009—that four years prior she had said she hoped that Ricky would die.

That is seriously messed up. And about par for the course with American sports fans, and people on Twitter, and people who believe things that Bill O’Reilly says.

While this fascinated me, most of the documentary spans that five year period and how Ricky evolved as a person. And how he smoked a lot of marijuana. Another highlight comes from Jim Brown explaining, but not excusing, how Ricky can be a decent, enlightened guy and also a dead beat dad. Good call including an interview with Jim Brown, good call.

Oz The Great and Powerful

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**½

I wonder why Sam Raimi made this film. I wonder why Disney chose him to make it, or to make it at all. Certainly there is a market for fantasy, remakes, and nostalgia that overfloweth today (see The Hobbit, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Evil Dead), but based on the film itself—an enjoyable new chapter in the middle of a saga—I believed that this was meant to start a series of Oz prequels. However, the end of the film leaves little room for an interesting story before Dorothy’s arrival.

My problems with the film are four-fold (quadfold? tetrafold? whatever…)
(1) There was too many solely computer graphics based scenes. There were several amazing and wondrous scenes in Oz that could only have been created on a computer, but Sam Raimi is no Zack Snyder, and it really shows when there is little to do but watch James Franco look like he is experiencing emotions for the first time in his mid 30’s. Think the Star Wars prequels without the light sabers.
(2) The Witch (Wizard) fight was no Gandalf/Saruman, neither in execution, nor in dialogue. On the bright side, at least it did not feature Harry Potter wand fencing.
(3) Mila Kunis is a very talented and dedicated actress, but WTF!? The way she turns into the Wicked Witch of the West is pretty weak. But that lazy writing paled next to the cackling. The original Wicked Witch was great, as was her cackle. In Oz TG&P it gets shoved into the film thrice. Never does it reach the quality of the original and only once does it mirror the reasoning of the original cackling, but this leads me to a question about the film all together…
(4) Is this a remake or prequel? Clearly, as there is no Dorothy, this is ostensibly a prequel. It is loosely based on books that come from before her trip. Yet the parallels are constant: (a) the cast from the black & white 4×3 aspect ratio opening scenes reappear in Oz, just like in The Wizard of Oz; (b) Oz gets taken by tornado to Oz; (c) Glinda can see Oz for who he truly is and in the end tells him he had __ inside him the whole time; and (d) Oz gives out gifts at the end. They might come from L. Frank Baum’s original material, but it feels like a lazy remake. One from the George Lucas school of arbitrarily making sure that some things line up, like where a scarecrow might come from.

Copyright Disney

Copyright Disney

But this is probably just a kid’s movie. I have not seen The Wizard of Oz for about twenty years, but I know that it would not have endured if it were just a kid’s movie. The only worthy performances came from Zack Braff and Michelle Williams. Braff voices a flying monkey wonderfully. He captured the spirit of childish adventure, with a touch of adult anxiety. Michelle Williams was even better than him. She channeled a 30-something Kim Basinger to recreate the glittering Glinda the Good. In fact, I cannot imagine how the original Glinda, Billie Burke could have been as good as Michelle Williams is at being a good Glinda the Good.

Best of 2012

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Dating back to my humble origins on http://grinnellplans.com I have never waited this long to put forth my annual Best of/Favorite/Top 10 list. I apologize for the wait and hope that the Academy Awards have not outshone me. This year was a pretty good year for women in cinema, and if you want to see a reflection of that do not read this list. Instead you will get another neon sign flashing with what I love in film.

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1. Argo fuck yourself! If only that had been on the poster. Also, John Goodman has now been in the Best Picture two years in a row.
2. Lincoln lived up to the hype.
3. Anna Karenina was written by a Russian man with a beard, adapted by a man and directed by a man. At least it starred a woman giving the performance of her life, so there is that.
4. The Dark Knight Rises – the best DC comic book movie of the year.
5. The Avengers – the best Marvel comic book movie of the year.
6. Looper – some people felt that Ben Affleck was robbed of his nomination for best director, but Rian Johnson was robbed both of a nomination and the award for best original screenplay, which went to…
7. Django Unchained
8. Prometheus – “A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable. That is natural order of things.”
9. The Amazing Spider-Man – Better cast, best director, better story, more entertaining, yet somehow not really a better movie than Spider-Man.
10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – just in case the three comic book movies, three science fiction flicks and one spy film failed to underline how much a nerd I am.

Unlike most years, I actually rewatched seven of the ten already. Also, I failed to see the Oscar bait thrown out at the last minute.

Best/Worst/Only Documentary I watched from this year: Everything of Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 unless we are counting 30/30 films. In that case, 9.79* was the best documentary of the year.

Worst movie I watched all-year: Underworld: Awakening.