Posts in Film

Celebrating ‘Rana’s Wedding’

A still from Rana's wedding
We just finished watching Hani Abu Asad’s Rana’s Wedding, and what a delight it was. The movie, which was made in 2002, tells the story of a young Palestinian woman who is madly in love and desperately wants to get married to the man of her dreams before 4 PM.

While pursuing her desires, Rana faces many hurdles stemming from both the traditions of her society and Israeli occupation. The movie’s ultimate message is that happiness can still be attained regardless of the circumstances life throws at you. Rana’s Wedding is definitely a must see! Two thumbs up at the Tynes house! I have to admit, though, the movie made me incredibly homesick. It is worth noting that this film was made available to us through the incredbile library of Netflix. At this stage of my life, I can’t seem to recall life before Netflix. What an amazing service.

Movie chatter

A scene from Match Point When I feel like the world is going down the drain — something that I have been sensing quite often lately — I turn to the movies. For me, films provide an especially needed escapism. My movie obsession began at an early age, from that point driving many around me crazy, particularly my mother. My addiction was emboldened after I tied the knot with another proud movie buff. Watching films is our favorite past time. We rent, buy and discuss movies constantly. Those following Mental Mayhem may have noticed that cinematic discussions are an integral part of this blog. Well, enough rambling. Let’s talk movies. We have seen a number of good films lately, thanks laregly to Netflix. Here is my take on a few of them:

  1. Match Point: This Woodey Allen movie is simply brilliant. I fully enjoyed both the acting and the story, which uses tennis to explore the irony that is life! Two thumbs way up!
  2. La Communidad: A Spanish black comedy that takes place primarily in an apartment complex in Madrid. As one movie critic said, La Communidad is a mesh between the works of Hitchock and Almodovar.
  3. Kinsey: A film following the life story of an entomologist who decides to study the sexual habits of humans, the scientist, Kinsey, undertakes unorthodox research methods, which prove shocking at times. This is not exactly a family flick and might not be a good choice for conservative viewers.
  4. Me, you and everyone we know: This independent flick is not your usual viewing, proving entertaining but shocking at times. If you are like me and currently traumatized by the events in the Middle East, then this movie is a wonderful distraction from the madness around you.
  5. Lord of War: Nicholas Cage is fanstastic in this intese drama about the corrupt world of international arms sales. I would definitely watch this movie again.

Quick thoughts on ‘Munich’

Munich_2We finally got a chance to watch the controversial film Munich last night with the Jameeds, Beisan, and another friend. After the movie each of us had a different opinion. We could not really agree on whether the movie was balanced or not. I personally thought the movie was very well-made and did a decent job portraying both sides of the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I thought the movie’s message was targeted more towards Israelis, as it was highly critical of the actions of Mossad’s killing machine and the blind patriotism that exits amidst Israeli society. One particular quote that stood out was from Carl, a skeptical Mossad agent: "Israel was not created by being nice." Another quote of note was that from a trigger-happy Mossad agent who remarked that the only thing that matters to him is Jewish blood.

One thing I liked about the movie was that unlike many other Hollywood movies, Palestinians were portrayed as human and not just these blood-thirsty terrorists. They were shown as refined, highly cultured, and family-oriented. The film also questioned the involvement of the targeted Palestinians in the actual killing of Israeli athletes in Munich.

Blogger Angry Arab believes that the majority of those assassinated "had nothing to do with Munich" and that the movie failed miserably in showing their innocence. I tend to agree with Angry Arab that the alleged Palestinian involvement should have been dissected more thoroughly. Although the movie made sure to present the Palestinian side of the story, I thought it was shown a bit hastily and not given enough prominence. For someone unaware of the conflict, the Palestinian side of the story might not have been made clear enough.

The movie was also highly informative for me personally. One interesting bit was seeing Ehud Barak dressed as a woman while pursuing PLO fedayeen in Beirut. The movie’s final message: Violence breeds violence and tit-for-tat policies only result in more bloodshed. Overall, I thought the movie was very good and I’d give it a score of 8/10. Here are some reactions from the blogosphere: Angry Arab, Palforce, and Egyptian Sandmonkey.

Digesting Kieslowski’s ‘Decalogue’

DecalogueWe finally finished watching Kristof’s Kieslowski’s Decalogue — a 10-part dramatic series based on the Ten Commandants that originally aired on Polish television. Although the series was highly enjoyable, it took us nearly a month to get through all ten episodes. The number one reason was the busy holiday season. Another was the fact that the series dragged a bit.

However, for anyone that enjoyed Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy: Red, White, Blue, then the Decalogue is definitely a must-see. It has some cinematic elements that also exist in the Trilogy like the intermingling of characters from one episode to the next and the presence of voyeurs. But the Decalogue episodes are darker than the Trilogy and less artistic at times.

The most amusing part of watching the Decalogue is trying to determine which of the Commandments the episode is based on, which proved to be a difficult task at times as some are so broad and others focus on multiple Commandments. All in all, the Decalogue was worth it. Would I watch it again? Definitely!

My take on ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’

The Chronicles of Narnia The first time I heard about Narnia was during the first days of my arrival in the US, almost six months ago. I vividly remember the day the husband and I were talking a walk through the quaint streets of Harrisonburg, VA when we came across what looked like a college student house with a sign on its entrance that had but a single word upon it: Narnia.

Being the curious "immigrant" then, I asked the husband about the significance of this word. He was more than happy to answer my query, as, to my utter surprise, he turned out to be an ardent Narnia fan. A few months later, the movie Narnia made it to the big screen. So this weekend we had to watch the film, primarily for me to fulfill my curiosity about Narnia and for Jeff to re-live his childhood reading memories.

I loved it. I enjoyed the plot, the scenery, the storyline, and the acting. I regard the film as a mesh between The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, combining the elements of children’s escapades similar to those in the Harry Potter series with the scenes of war found in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Watching the movie, which I understand is the first of many more Narnia movies to come, made me very interested in reading the whole series of books. And speaking of books, it’s worth noting that a Jordanian publisher has already translated the Chronicles into Arabic. Here is an excerpt from an AP article published in The Jordan Times last week:

A Jordanian publishing house on Wednesday introduced Arabic translations of the first three books in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, timed to coincide with the release of the film version of one of the books in US and European cinemas.

"I thought, if the American and European children enjoy such fairy tales, why not our Arab children," Sinan Sweis, director of Ophir Publishing, said after a launch ceremony attended by the publishers, British embassy officials and about 70 students.

I’m also wondering if anyone besides me has noticed the insertion of Turkish elements in the movie. The lion in the film is referred to as "Aslan," which, as I understand it, is Turkish for "lion." Also, the younger brother in the movie, Ed, is so enamored with Turkish delights that he asks the white witch to give him some and it becomes a bit of the reason for his treachery.

All in all, I would say the movie is worth your time and money whether you’re a fantasy fan or not. Score: 4/5.

A few thoughts on ‘Syriana’

Hizbullah greets George I had been looking forward to watching Syriana since I’d read an article about it nearly three months ago. Back then, the movie seemed to have all the elements that would prompt me to eagerly await its release: Middle Eastern politics, the relationship between US and Arab leaders, and, of course, George Clooney (I hope the husband is not reading).

After we watched it last night, I came to the conclusion that while the movie is intriguing, with an engaging script, it could have been directed better as I found some parts of the film confusing and extremely hard to follow. The film revolves around oil and the world of corruption that surrounds it, sending one central message: Oil affects us all. However, I could not fully understand the behind-the-scenes politics of the oil industry in the US. Maybe it was just me, but for some reason I could not connect the dots on a number of occasions.

A number of my friends expressed concern that the movie might be condescending to Arabs, but after watching it I felt that despite some Arab clich├ęs, the flick was more critical of the US pursuit of oil than anything else. Actually, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee thought the movie was acceptable and highly recommended it. Here is an excerpt from their press release.

The overriding plot does not vilify the Arab world, its people, religions, or cultures, but rather creates a world in which evil feeds off of itself, much to the detriment of Arab and American societies. Money determines everything, and individuals, including oil company executives, Arab princes and covert CIA operatives, are expendable.

Syriana is an entertaining, if not always completely lucid, thriller, representing many of the anxieties in post-9/11 America. It represents a commendable effort to deal seriously with numerous troubling aspects of the relationship between US and Arab societies, and as such is highly recommended by ADC.

The use of the Arabic language in the film was an issue for me, as it wasn’t consistent, proving a bit annoying at times. The Arab-speaking characters in the movie spoke both classical and colloquial dialects, which I thought undermined the authenticity of some situations. Also, Alexander Siddiq, the actor playing the role of prince Nasir, spoke with an accented Arabic that really got to me. Was it really that difficult to find someone that spoke proper Arabic? Hearing George Clooney speak in my native tongue was really priceless, although I could not understand a word of what he was saying beyond ‘Shukran’ and so had to revert to subtitles.

All in all, despite its glitches, the movie is worth your time and money. It’s insightful and touches upon a basic commodity that is currently making our world go round if not ruining it at times.

UPDATE: Here are some reactions from the blogosphere: Moorish girl, Black Iris, Raja, and Darren Barefoot.

The Squid and the Whale

The Squid and the Whale Last week, the husband got us some free passes to the screening of the movie The Squid and the Whale, which was showing at the Bethesda Row Cinema, an independent theatre nearby. The movie, which I enjoyed a great deal, details the turmoil of an eccentric, intellectual New York family that is shattered by a sudden break-up.

The movie tackles the issue of how the children deal with their parents’ separation. Both of kids chose bizarre, immoral ways to deal with their family’s split. The dialogue in the movie was smart and the acting top-notch, especially that of the young actor who played the role of older brother.

Here is an interview with the movie director published in the Washington Post Sunday. Apparently, the movie is based to some degree on the director’s own parents’ divorce during his teenage years. Interesting stuff! My score for this movie: 8/10

Meeting ‘The Kitchen Conqueror’

ConquerorShereen Abdul-BakiLast night we made our way to the Jordanian Embassy in DC to attend the screening of a short film entitled The Kitchen Conqueror created by Jordanian-American movie maker Shereen Abd Al-baki. Before the screening she delivered a short lecture explaining her pioneering movie making method, which she has dubbed "design cinema" because of her design background and directorial style.

Her concept introduces design elements into movie making as a narrative tool, creating a colorful portrait for each frame of the film. She applied this idea to The Kitchen Conqueror, which tells the story of a Jordanian-American woman struggling to make the famous Arabic dish Magloubeh in her tiny Los Angles apartment. While in the process of purchasing ingredients for her festive meal, Shereen, who plays the protagonist, contemplates her identify as an Arab as well as inner conflicts that stem from being injected with elements of both East and West.

The movie played like a series of contemporary paintings joined together to tell a story of Orient meeting Occident. It was the first time I’d heard about the ‘design cinema’ concept. It found it extremely intriguing. Kudos to Abdul Baki for her efforts in revolutionizing movie making with a unique artistic vision.

Where are the Jordanian movies?

The Arab Film Festival kicks off in DC today featuring an eclectic mix of Arab movies from Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco among others. After reading the festival’s schedule I could not help but get a bit annoyed by the lack of Jordanian entries. What Jordan is contributing to the festival appears to be an 8 minute short film by Jordanian director Shereen Abdul-Baki. However, this short movie is listed as an American production, so I’m assuming it was made in the States. So in a nutshell, the word Jordan doesn’t appear anywhere in the schedule.

I’m aware that the Jordanian movie scene is still in its infancy, but still — deep down inside — I was hoping to see a full-fledged Jordanian contribution. I’m optimistic, though, as I know the efforts of some talented Jordanians like Ameen and Laith will soon pay off. We should also take our hats off to the Royal Film Commission for creating a movie scene in the Kingdom.

You never know, maybe we’ll find a Jordanian contribution in next year’s festival! I remain optimistic.

Aboard the ‘Whale Rider’

PaikeaThe other day we watched the beautiful movie Whale Rider. Although it has been out for a couple of years, it was just two days ago that we managed to put our paws on this highly acclaimed film and what a treat it was.

This visually stunning film tells the legendary story of a young Maori girl who struggles to fulfill her destiny while being challenged by a patriarchal community. It is a story about love, redemption, heritage and family ties all woven together in this mystical manner that mates fantasy to reality.

The movie also sheds an important light on the tradition and culture of the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand through the travails of Paikea, who was wonderfully played by Keisha Castle-Hughes (pictured). It was such a joy to watch Whale Rider that I will watch it again and again. It is highly recommend for troubled souls!