Tuesday, September 13, 2005

our first batch of the day

THE WAR WITHIN

Written and Directed
by Joseph Castelo

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That's the question of terrorism and always has been. The right says that it's Islam's fault, the far left says that it's America's fault. The Arabs fault the fictitious World Jewish conspiracy and so on and so forth. Their beef is generally based on lies, but that's neither here nor there.

We don't know what made the the Pakistani secret police kidnap a Pakistani engineer named Hassan (Ayad Akhtar) in Paris soon after 9/11, except that his brother was leading a violent, major protest of America's right to self-defense. The Chief Inspector in the torture room(Samrat Chakrabarti) says as much and shows him a photo before beating him up mercilessly. We can't be sure if he's guilty or not. The filmmakers make it look as if he may be innocent, but then why would the Pakistani ISI go to all the trouble of going all the way to France to kidnap him if there wasn't a case?

Cut to a few years later. Hassan is in a packing crate being offloaded a ship in Bayonne, New Jersey, where he's met by the local leader of a terrorist cell and given the task a few days hence, of blowing up Grand Central Station, one of the architectural wonders of New York. But in the meantime, he's got to go under cover, so he heads over to the home of his borther Sayeed(Firdous Bamji), where he's greeted with open arms.

Sayeed represents the best of what an immigrant should be. He's successful, charitable, and generally content with his life. He lives with his wife Farida(Sarita Choudhury),their son, Ali and his sister Duri(Nandana Sen), who had a crush on Hassan when the three of them were kids back in the old country.

This is a tale of perversion, the perversion of Islam that the bad guys [and they ARE the bad guys] are peddling to the much of the World, through a media that pretending to stand up for the underdogs just creates hatred and resentment for the fun of it.

Hassan destroys his host, the latter's family and their friends in the process. This is evil, pure and simple, shown in a clear light, for the most part. The acting is professional.
Akhtar, who cowrote the screenplay gives a cool and nuanced performance, Choudhury shows real passion, and the kid who plays Ali is a find. It should be seen.

THUMBSUCKER (USA)

Written and Directed
by Mike Mills

There will always be coming of age films about seniors in high school. Some will be good and some will be bad. It's a subject that will never go out of style.

Justin Cobb(Lou Pucci) is a typical high school senior. He's somewhere in the lower edge of typical. His vice isn't violence or drugs or anything, he just sucks his thumb, something that drives his parents(Tilda Swinton and Vincent D'Onofrio) nuts, and doesn't make him all that happy either. As his brotherJoel Cobb(Chase Offerle) compains: “You too busy being weird for anyone to notice I”ve got problems.”

So we've got your typical American dysfunctional family. The disappointed-in-life father, a movie-starstruck (but ashamed of it) mother and two unhappy kids searching for a way to get out of their ruts.

But this is all about Justin, and Justin has two basic problems: how to avoid having to get braces again, and how to get into Rebecca's (Kelli Garner) pants. So….

Justin frequently consults with his dentist-cum-guru, Dr. Perry Lyman(Keanu Reeves) on what to do with his teeth. At first what's done doesn't work, and then Dad…rather Mike [he thinks his kids are too old to call him that] tries something that's embarrassing which then leads to Rebecca dumping him. Then he discovers Ridilin…

Drugs and people's reactions to them are generally interesting pits of plotting, “Trainspotting” being a good example, and what's really strange about this is the fact that the medication works better than all expectations is shown as a bad thing to some extent, his debate coach (Vince Vaughn) frets about having “created a monster.”

The transformation from slacker to overachiever to something else is sort of like a train wreck. Horrible, but you can't take your eyes off it. The acting is generally first rate. Swinton and D'Onofrio have been nominated for Oscars@ and other awards, and no doubt young
Pucci is going to get some too for this thing. Definitely worth a look.

2 comments:

Vince said...

Eric, I just saw a screening of The War Within in New York; I was greatly moved by it and agree with your review. It's an exceptional film with powerful performances. There's an error in your review though; Sarita Chaudhury does not play Sayeed's sister Duri, she plays his wife Farida. It's Nandana Sen who plays Duri, the sister, whose passionate portrayal you drew attention to in your review. Perhaps you could fix the mistake before the film releases?

MikeC said...

What a film. It blew me away. I liked your review but I disagree that the film ultimately shows the protagonist as the perpetrator of pure and simple evil. What I loved about the film is precisely that it tells the story without pointing fingers. The question who is to blame, who is the real baddie, is in fact immaterial. And yes I agree, Ayad Akhtar and Nandana Sen are brilliant in the film. Their subtle yet nakedly honest performances go a long way in humanizing a story that could otherwise have become a little cold and analytical.