Month: February 2017

Reviewing: Brick Lane (2007)

The film's main character, Nazneen Ahmed (Tannishta Chatterjee).

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The 2007 film Brick Lane (based on the novel of the same name by Monica Ali) gives us a look at the lifestyles that many of those in the Muslim community (specifically the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Indians) were forced to lead. The film’s main character, Nazneen, is forced at a young age away from her sister and life in Bangladesh at the age of seventeen, during the 1980s. She is arranged to marry Chanu Ahmed, who is nearly twice her age, and they are to live in the Brick Lane section of London, England, which is home to the British Bangladeshi community.

As Nazneen grows into her role as wife to Chanu and mother to their two young daughters, she keeps herself sane by sewing clothes, sending and replying to letters from her sister, and striking up a close relationship with Kharim, a clothing worker who comes to her flat periodically. Her world is thrown into disarray (once more) when, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, racial tensions against her community force her and her family to consider moving back to Bangladesh.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The film explores the tensions that arose in the wake of 9/11. As we all know, the events of 9/11 sent our world into a state of shock, one from which we may never recover. It caused us to question our safety, our well-being as a nation, and our relationships with those of other cultures. It forced those not young enough to understand what happened to understand, to realize that the barriers protecting one’s country were not as all-powerful as we were lead to believe. Similar acts of terrorism in other countries have forced its inhabitants to embrace that sad and scary truth as well, as this film shows.

Nazneen (Tannishta Chatterjee) and Kharim (Christopher Simpson).

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Brick Lane does a superb job of putting the audience in the shoes of its characters, in addition to giving each one of them a voice and a three-dimensional characterization.  While I would have liked to see a bit more of the family dynamic amongst the Ahmeds, the film itself stands as a powerful commentary on the impact of terrorism as a whole, especially in regards to a community that is cruelly blamed for those events.

Reviewing: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

One of the original posters for "An American Werewolf in London".

Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

It’s a great time to be a horror fan, if these last few years have been any kind of indication. From the Paranormal Activity movies to recent breakouts like It Follows and Get Out, the horror genre has reignited the interests of filmmakers and  moviegoers alike. For this week’s post, I thought I’d treat myself to one of the more famous films in this genre, John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London.

If the name John Landis sounds familiar, then you’re not alone. He’s been the director for several hit comedies, like Nation Lampoon’s Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Trading Places. Now you’re probably getting curious: how could a director known for comedies suddenly transition to a straight-up horror film? To be fair, American Werewolf has its fair share of funny moments (more so than the average horror film), but nonetheless manages to be terrifying all the same.

The film's two main characters: Jack (Griffin Dunne, left) and David (David Naughton, right).

Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The film follows two young Americans, David Kessler (David Naughton, right) and Jack Freeman (Griffin Dunne, left) who are backpacking through England. While they are briefly stopped at a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb, they are warned by the townsfolk to stick close to the road, “beware the moors” (referring to the North York Moors, which is not far from where the men are traveling), and also to “beware the full moon.” As with most horror movies, the men unintentionally forget to heed this advice, and are attacked by large animal, resulting in David being injured and Jack being killed. As David wakes up in a London hospital, he is visited by the decaying spirit of Jack, who tells his friend that they were attacked by a lycanthrope (otherwise known as a werewolf). By the next full moon, David himself will become a werewolf.

As I mentioned, American Werewolf is a funny film. It may be odd that a horror film can be both funny and scary, but this film pulls off the combination of these tones beautifully. Just because it is funny doesn’t make it a spoof, as there are genuine, dangerous stakes to this story. The effects used to transform David into the werewolf are frightening and impressive, even by today’s standards, holding its own against the CGI of today’s films. If you’re looking for an introduction to the horror genre that manages to thrill you, in addition to making you laugh quite a bit, An American Werewolf in London is for you.

 

 

 

David (David Naughton) transforming into the werewolf.Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Reviewing: xXx (2002)

Vin Diesel in 2002's "xXx".

In honor of the newest movie coming out, I decided I’d jump into the craze that is the xXx franchise, starting with the first one. Fresh off his breakout role in The Fast and the Furious, a young Vin Diesel starred as Xander Cage, a stuntman and extreme sports enthusiast who is recruited to be a secret agent by the NSA. He is given the assignment of infiltrating a group of supposed Russian terrorists, who are secretly harboring a biochemical weapon known as “Silent Night”, in exchange for having his criminal record wiped. The film is enjoyable, largely because of Vin Diesel’s charismatic performance and the scope of the action scenes on display (there’s one involving a motocross bike scene that has to be seen to be believed).

Reviewing: La La Land (2016)

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in "La La Land".

Courtesy of Summit Entertainment. 

One commercial for La La Land contains a review that says something along the lines of “They don’t make movies like this anymore.” And I agree: it’s been years since we’ve seen an original musical on the big screen. Not that anyone hasn’t tried, but it would be very hard to earn a studio’s trust in order to ensure the license to make one. Damien Chazelle, he of 2014’s exhilarating jazz-infused thriller Whiplash, was able to earn a studio’s trust thanks to the glowing reviews and multiple award wins of his first feature. And La La Land certainly is something, with impressive choreography, catchy songs, and excellent turns from stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It’s just that I was expecting a bit more, a longer connective thread that tied the movie together, which is muddled slightly by too many montage sequences. La La Land is one hell of an experience, but one I hoped to mine a little more out of.

Reviewing: Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

The protagonists of Bend It Like Beckham: Jess Bhamra (left) and Jules Paxton (right).

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. 

Bend It Like Beckham is one of those movies that not only entertains, but teaches as well. Through its focus on two families of different cultures (who have similar problems, nonetheless), we get some commentary on how each family operates under the umbrella of their respective cultures. Both of our protagonists, Jess and Jules, dream of playing professional soccer (referred to in Europe as association football), but their families, particularly their mothers, are against the realizing of these dreams. While you have a good idea of where the film is going in the end, it’s an enjoyable ride nonetheless.

Reviewing: Your Name (2017)

Picture courtesy of Toho Co., Ltd.

Let’s face it: the movie industry isn’t quite what it used to be. You can’t go a day without hearing about a remake, reboot, or sequel to an existing property, or setting up one movie as part of a planned franchise. Originality exists, but it doesn’t take center stage anymore; movie studios think they know what audiences want, when what they really want is something they haven’t seen before. That’s what brought people to see movies in the first place: to experience characters similar to or far removed from you or I, places we thought we knew but didn’t, and to leave the theaters with questions about life itself and our role in it. I recently had such an experience when I took in Your Name, a Japanese anime film about a boy from Tokyo and a girl from the countryside who form a connection when they start switching bodies on a regular basis.

Still with me? I hope so. Body switching seems like it’s an overdone concept, right? There can only be so many times where two people experiencing each others’ lives can be entertaining: both versions of Freaky FridayThe Change-Up, etc. But Your Name takes this trend and out of it spins a story that’s equal parts heartwarming, soul-crushing, and hysterical.

Courtesy of Toho Co., Ltd.

Our main protagonists are Mitsuha, a high school girl living in Itomori (an otherwise fictional town in the Japanese countryside) and Taki, a high school boy who lives in Tokyo. Mitsuha yearns for a better life outside of Itomori, one that doesn’t involve her estranged, commanding father (the town’s mayor) or participating in rituals for her family shrine. In a fit of frustration after a ritual one night, she wishes she could be a handsome Tokyo boy in her next life. The next morning, she wakes up in the body of Taki, a boy of her age who just so happens to live in Tokyo. After  going through one increasingly awkward (yet hilarious) day of Taki’s life, she returns to her own body the next morning. However, it is shown that Taki has had his own misadventures in Mitsuha’s body, and they realize that they switch bodies once every day or so. After a while, they accept this swap as routine and begin influencing each other’s lives (Mitsuha becomes more popular in school, Taki successfully asks out a co-worker), forming a deep connection in the process.

At its core, Your Name is an unconventional love story, one that takes a somewhat overused concept and reworks it significantly, so that we don’t always know what’s going to happen. I enjoyed the twist revealed later in the story (which I won’t spoil here, but it’s a big one) and felt for each of the main characters, being likable just for being ordinary and not special in any way. It’s an emotional roller-coaster, but in the best of ways, and I hope to see more films like this that not only take challenges, but also provide deeper connections with their audiences.

Courtesy of Toho Co., Ltd.