Let me tell you a story about God. Continue reading
Any attempt at reviewing The Amazing Spider-man will undoubtedly result in comparisons with Sam Raimi’s original 2002 Spider-man film. The biggest question surrounding this movie is “why bother?” And rightfully so: it’s a reboot no one asked for. In fact, we could have continued the adventures of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-man as he faced off against the Vulture (who was going to be played by John Malkovich) and the world would have kept spinning, tickets would have been sold, and we all would have been able to put Spider-man 3’s Emo-Parker behind us. However, Sony Studios saw fit to start over with a new cast, new story, and an updated setting. The result is, thankfully, refreshing and enjoyable–but not quite amazing. Continue reading
When I was twelve-years-old, my parents bought me LEGO Studios as a Christmas gift. It was probably the best gift I’ve ever received, because it sparked my imagination and served as an introduction into the world of filmmaking and animation. With it, I could create stop-motion animation movies with my LEGO characters, or anything else I saw fit (including cats and staplers). Continue reading
At the heart of Summer Wars is a message that is all too real in our modern society: our over-reliance on technology is a crisis waiting to happen. In the age of Anonymous and SOPA, technology has become so ingrained into the circuitry of our lives that we neglect to recognize its dark side. But despite this supposedly bleak statement, Summer Wars is a very optimistic film, and balances the social commentary with the universal truth that when it comes to a crisis, never underestimate the power of a family—and humanity at large. Continue reading
It’s common knowledge that the book is always better than the movie. The Hunger Games, however, is probably the closest thing we’ll get to a perfect movie adaptation. Having read the book, I actually found the movie to be more enjoyable. Continue reading
It’s comforting to know that even though animation is trending toward cutting-edge computer animation, hand-drawn wonders such as The Secret World of Arrietty will still grace our theatre screens.
It’s rare for Muslims to be portrayed positively in movies; even more so to base an entire film on them. For the most part, Muslims portrayed in film are characterised by what they do: pray five times a day, fast in Ramadan, perform Hajj—or, as is the stereotype, kidnap hostages and bomb buildings. But few films characterise Muslims by who they are.
But Qasim Basir’s debut film Mooz-Lum does exactly that.
The film centers on Tariq Mahdi, a University student who is troubled by his past and confused by his faith. Through flashbacks we see Tariq’s childhood, and how the events in his past shaped his character and outlook on life. His identity is something he constantly struggles with, having been raised in a strict Islamic upbringing by his father, and thrust into a society that distrusts Muslims. “Call me T,” he says several times, refusing to use his name. Because of a (spoiler-free) incident at school during his childhood, Tariq has faded into the background and shut himself off from the world. But Tariq’s struggle for identity is also mirrored by his struggle for faith. When invited to a dinner for the Muslim Student’s Association, he uncomfortably declines, saying he’s not into it. Yet Basir handles this very well, and there’s never a moment where Tariq suddenly “sees the light,” as he puts it. Instead, we merely see Tariq coming out of his shell, taking the first steps to reconciling his past and understanding his faith—sometimes painfully.
Basir’s talent is letting an actor’s performance speak more than their words, and this is very rare in the film industry these days. Most directors feel their characters should explain how they feel, rather than express it. Basir shows he capable of the exact opposite from the opening scene, where Tariq’s father gives him an awkward (but heartfelt) farewell. After that, you can feel the uncomfortable tension between Tariq’s parents when his mother demands a divorce; you can almost see Tariq battling his inner-self through his stiff posture and slight panic in his eye when he is peer pressured into drinking, but he reluctantly does it anyway. Basir manages to channel the energy of each character and make them stand out.
The performances are good all around, with the stand-outs being Evan Ross as Tariq and Nia Long as his mother, Safiyah. Ross manages to make Tariq a very believable character through his emotional turmoil, while Safiyah is the embodiment of a woman taking control of her life, smashing all sorts of stereotypes of Muslim women along the way. Though Danny Glover’s name is featured prominently on the poster and the trailer, don’t expect Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon. Instead, he’s the cold and condescending dean of the University, constantly belittling one of Tariq’s professors because of his approach to teaching—and, secretly, because said professor is a Muslim.
The film is paced quite well, transitioning at appropriate times back and forth between Tariq as a child and in University. My only problem was that each transition is accompanied by this bright, solarising lens flare that feels like it was lifted from a direct-to-TV movie. Again, this betrays Basir’s talent of showing rather than telling; we don’t need a special effect for a flashback, because we can tell the difference between young Tariq and adult Tariq.
[Spoiler] The strongest moment of the film was, by far, Basir’s handling of 9/11. Before it happens, he never shoehorns a date that even hints that the film is taking place around that time, but when it happens it punches you in the gut. It serves as a catalyst for the darkest moments in the film, where Tariq’s friends and family are persecuted because of the openness of their faith, while he remains on the periphery, unsure where he stands. [Spoiler End]
Unfortunately, the part of the film that felt the weakest was the climax, where Tariq defends his sister and her friend from a mob of students out to get revenge on the “terrorists”. It’s the only part of the film that feels like it’s trying too hard, with one of the mob member’s suddenly learning the error of his ways and defending Tariq. The climax carries over to Tariq questioning his faith in light of recent events, and his sister, Taqwa, telling him not to judge an entire faith on the actions of a few individuals. Without a doubt the sentiment is there, but the dialogue sounds like it was written directly for the audience, not the characters. Taqwa could have stared directly into the camera and delivered the same line in the same manner and it would have the same effect. Thankfully, the real emotional punch comes when Tariq’s parents see the scars his childhood has left him, and finally realize just how much they have affected him as an adult.
For a directorial debut, Qasim Basir manages to make his talents known. His focus on his characters (and the actors portraying them) helps to overshadow weaker moments in the plot. In any case, Mooz-Lum is a huge step forward as the media slowly walks toward the day when Muslims will be characterized by who they are, rather than what they do.
The Muslim Take: Of course most of the film is spot-on when it comes to Muslims, because the director is one. The only part that had me scratching my head was that Tariq’s mother and sister are always shown wearing a hijab, or headscarf, even at home and when they are only with Tariq. It was obviously a conscious choice on the part of the director, but the hijab isn’t necessary around family members.