This Is How Noah Got Released in Lebanon

I didn’t know “Noah” being screened in Lebanon was a matter of “if.” Everyone just assumed showing it might be a big deal given Egypt and Qatar banned it. But Lebanon following the footsteps of neighboring countries when it comes to censorship is a rare thing, and Noah found its loophole.

I watched the movie yesterday and I have to say, I wasn’t impressed at all. Not every movie needs to arise from a cinematic need to have it exist but I fail to see any point that Noah can put forth. Perhaps Aronofsky was fulfilling his childhood dream of bringing his favorite prophet to life.

I don’t even get why this movie has been labeled as offensive right out of the bat. If anything, Noah is only Biblical or Quranic because the main plot of the movie (a flood and an ark) as well as Noah himself are Bible and Quran entities. Apart from that, the movie holds next to no resemblance to any form of scripture.

In fact, Noah probably has as much in common with scripture as Harry Potter: they are, at the end of the day, only tales of good versus evil centered around a character with troubles. In Noah’s case, he is such a troubled man that his entire demeanor becomes grating, often pushing you away from any form of rapport that can be established with the characters on screen, all as he tries to appease his creator to the best of his capacities, even against common sense.

At the center of the Noah are gigantic rock transformers-ish creatures that used to be angels once upon a time, flowers that grow out of dead land, forests that sprout in minutes, a creation sequence that is beautifully portrayed, completely useless fighting scenes, a lot of CGI and a lot of drowning. It was somewhat like Lord of the Rings, except nowhere near as good.

Having watched it, I have to say this is yet another case of people rushing to see a movie only because of the controversy around it with the movie itself being quite subpar. Was it enjoyable? I have to say the two hours passed by well enough. But it was nowhere near as engrossing as I envisioned a biblical tale such as Noah would be. And that’s a shame. Out of 10, I’d give the movie 6.

However, before the movie began rolling, we were met with a screen that stayed there for 2 minutes, making sure everyone read what was on it. This was the loophole that got Noah screened in Lebanon:

photo

Hilarious? Sad? Horrible? I don’t even know in which category that prompt screen falls, but it’s the reason we’re getting to watch the movie. So either await a download or go to your nearest theatre to make sure that the science fiction movie you are about to see has factual contents and is religion-friendly.

Advertisements

The 2014 Oscars Predictions

2014 Oscars

Is it just me or was 2013 a very underwhelming year for cinema? Here I am, looking at the Oscar nominees one last time in order to pick favorites and predict who’s gonna take that golden statuette and I’m realizing that I’m not invested in the movies that have reached the finish line.

To note, I don’t have a decent streak when it comes to these predictions. I’m lousy at it. So proceed at your own risk.

Best Picture:

twelve_years_a_slave_xlg

Prediction: 12 Years A Slave

Personal Favorite: Gravity

It’s almost certain that 12 Years A Slave will take the Best Picture oscar tonight. I found it to be a good movie but was it remarkable enough? I hardly think so. The subject matter was overdone to my taste – weren’t Django and Lincoln from last year enough? – and the handling was too shocking at times and overly-sentimental at others. Perhaps that’s just me though. However, the truth is I wouldn’t mind 12 Years A Slave winning even though I’d much rather see Gravity, which was truly transfixing, or Her, which was quite the little surprise, win. As long as Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t get it, all will be well.

Best Actor:

dallas_buyers_club_ver2

Prediction: Matthew McConaughey

Personal Pick: Matthew McConaughey

Who knew Mr. McConaughey had it in him? Whenever his name pops up, I immediately think of those horrible romantic comedies he had become known for. Well, guess again. He had quite the performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” The movie wouldn’t have been what it turned out to be hadn’t been from him. And he also lost more weight than I did for the role. Isn’t that what those academy members love to vote for? But my personal pick, if I had been voting, would have been for Joaquin Phoenix whom I thought was quite the act in Her, an essentially one man (and woman’s voice) show. Phoenix isn’t even nominated.

Best Actress:

blue_jasmine

Prediction: Cate Blanchett

Personal Pick: Judie Dench

All in all, I find the best actress race to be, yet again, more interesting than the best actor one. Cate Blanchett, as the neurotic fallen-from-grace socialite, was interesting to watch in Blue Jasmine and she’s had the best campaign out of the nominated bunch so far, setting her as the clear favorite. But wasn’t Judie Dench mesmerizing in Philomena?

Best Director:

gravity

Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón

Personal Pick: Alfonso Cuarón

Back when I watched Gravity, a friend said he had no idea how some of the shots the movie contained were done. Gravity was a directing tour-de-force and for that, Cuarón deserves to win. I hope he does.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

dallas_buyers_club_ver2

Prediction: Jared Leto

Personal Pick: Jared Leto

Again, who knew Jared Leto had it in him? He was electric as the transsexual woman in “Dallas Buyers Club,” stealing every scene he was in and being completely unrecognizable at that. Kudos.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

american_hustle_xlg

Prediction: Jennifer Lawrence

Personal Pick: Lupita Nyong’o

Well, my heart here goes to Jennifer Lawrence (<3) but Lupita Nyong’o, in her first movie performance (is it?), was simply brilliant and should win this. The reason I’m going with Jennifer Lawrence is due to the fact that no supporting actress won this before without winning both the BAFTAs and the Golden Globe, which she has done, and as we all know the Academy members are not the bunch that would go for upsets. I’d be happy either way. Also, off topic, but isn’t it nice to see Julia Roberts in the mix again?

Best Animated Movie:

frozen

Prediction: Frozen

Personal Pick: Frozen

Frozen has become quite the phenomenon. I’m not the biggest of fans – too much music! – but it’s hard to deny exactly how big of a powerhouse it has become.

Best Original Song:

frozen

Prediction: Let It Go

Personal Pick: The Moon Song

To be honest, the best movie song this year isn’t even nominated. In case you’re wondering which one I’m talking about, it’s Inside Llewyn Davis‘ “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” What’s a travesty is having that movie have no songs from its soundtrack nominated. So watch Frozen’s “Let It Go” or Pharell Williams’ “Happy” and pretend to be absolutely shocked when they do.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

twelve_years_a_slave_xlg

Prediction: 12 Years A Slave

Personal Pick: Before Midnight

It’s difficult not to see the night’s best picture frontrunner not win this but I’ve found “Before Midnight” to be one of the most refreshing movies of the year. It was completely different from anything Hollywood typically offers. It had witty dialogue, an engaging story and – above all – it was just exquisitely written.

Best Original Screenplay:

her

Prediction: Her

Personal Pick: Her

Spike Jonze’s story about a man falling in love with his operating system sounds silly if taken as is but his handling of the issue turned into a movie that was reflective, important, witty and human.

Other Awards:

inside_llewyn_davis_ver2

  • Visual Effects: Gravity
  • Cinematography: Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Costume Design: The Great Gatsby
  • Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty
  • Visual Effects: Gravity

 

 

 

Her (2013) – Movie Review

Her Movie poster

Talk about hitting the ball out of the park. I am in awe.

Spike Jonze’s new movie, Her, features Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly who, in the not-so-distant future, is depressed as he goes about his life post a break-up with his wife. He is your typical lonely guy, living alone in a spacious apartment, working from his cubicle until he clocks in his required hours then going home to play his 3D video game. On the surface, Theodore doesn’t look like someone who minds where he was: in limbo between the memory of the relationship he had with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) and trying to move on with his life. He then finds himself purchasing a new operating system, meant to be the world’s first artificial intelligence OS, after seeing its ad while on his way to work. His OS is named Samantha and voiced by the amazing Scarlett Johansson.

Soon enough, Theodore finds his entire life and existence being organized by Samantha, not just his schedule and email. Through an earpiece and a phone, Theodore shows Samantha his world while she exposes him to different facets of the things he thought he knew. He’d close his eyes and let her guide him around a carnival. She’d ask him how he’d touch her. He’d feel comfortable with her. She’d help him break out of the break-up that was breaking him. But would a soothing voice be enough for him?

Her may be science fiction but it also feels like a cross examination of a culture that is becoming very dependent on technology. It’s not far-fetched to imagine the events of this movie happening in the not-distant future. The idea is perhaps not new but it has probably never been handled this way and while the premise of a love affair with an OS may be off-putting for some, Spike Jonze handles it brilliantly, giving a movie in which you get absorbed, sinking in every single second of screen time you watch.

There are characters which spring on screen here and there, such as Amy Adams – a friend of Theodore’s, but Her is Joaquin Phoenix leading a one man show. He commands the many extended scenes in which he is almost always alone. His interaction with Samantha, who is never physically present, gives way to one of the most heart-warming relationships you’ll see in a movie this year. The biggest drawback of Theodore Twombly, however, is that his character feels to be stuck in some emotional development limbo post his break-up. Joaquin Phoenix works through that, anyway. It’s the work of an acting master, one who has been going unappreciated for way too long.

Scarlett Johansson’s voice as Samantha is so vital to what Her is. She is getting an entire movie to ride on her vocal appeal, who is building an entire relationship with her sighs, nuances, sultriness and, occasionally, songs. She is so good at what she does that you eventually stop noticing that Theodore is not actually having a relationship with a living person but with a voice that talks to him through an earpiece. It’s slightly unnerving but also excellently well-done.

Her is a delight to the ears as ear as well with its backdrop being an exquisite score by Arcade Fire. The music is excellent. It feels futuristic while still managing to be current, perfectly embodying the movie it serves.

Her is magic on screen. It’s science fiction without the blitz. It’s unlike most of the movie’s you’ve seen recently. It asks questions that as a culture we may be heading to without coming off as greeting-card cheesy or preachy. And it’s easy, I guess, to think of it as gimmicky or as another been-there-done-that movie. But it’s not. I may have found its premise odd at first and dismissed it way too easily. But I’m so glad I gave this movie a chance because it has turned out to be one the year’s absolute best. I really hope it wins some golden statuettes. It deserves every single one of them. Go watch it. Now.

4.5/5

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) – Movie Review

Hunger Games Catching Fire movie poster

It has become a Hollywood rule that sequels should suck. A few movies have escaped that sophomore slump. Add Catching Fire to that short list. Nay, have Catching Fire occupy an honorary spot on that list. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how sequels should be made.

I am a fan of The Hunger Games book series. I also thoroughly enjoyed the first movie. And let’s just say that the second movie makes my liking of the first seem mediocre, childish, fanboyish. I stand corrected – The Hunger Games was not the movie that brought this series to its potential. Catching Fire does that and so much more.

The events pick up where the previous movie ended: Katniss has to work with the consequences of her defiance at The Hunger Games that resulted in saving both Peeta Mellark and herself. Her act of defiance is seeding a revolution across the country. People are looking at her as their leader. And the Capitol wants her to do what she can to squash that revolution down, as they prepare for a very special edition of The Hunger Games, which have hit their 75th edition.

Saying anything more than that would be treading spoiler-zone worse than a minesweeper game. Catching Fire doesn’t let up. There’s no dull moment. There’s no frame that feels out of place. There’s no scene that makes you shrug at it being useless. It keeps you transfixed throughout its two and a half hour run. Just sit back and enjoy it. Special effects? Check. Riveting cast? Check. Twisted story? Check. Great directing? Check. Cinematography, art direction, costume design? Check, check and check.  Seriously, what more do you need?

Jennifer Lawrence, through her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, is cementing herself as the actress of our generation. The sheer talent this creature has is simply spell-binding to watch. She captures the essence of Katniss perfectly, delivering one knockout scene after the next like it’s a piece of cake. It helps that she has multi-layered material to work with. But I highly doubt any other actress with less chops could have done the marvelous job she’s doing in this series.

If The Hunger Games series continues its upward trajectory, look for it to mark itself as this classic movie series down the line that we tell our grandchildren to watch as they shrug us off. Those movies? They’d ask. But they look so ancient. They’d add. Except they’re not. Catching Fire, despite it being fiction, feels extremely relevant in the world of today. It may not be the movie that would amass a ton of Oscars. It’s not because it’s not worthy. It’s because it’s just too easy to shrug this off as some silly young adult novel adaptation. Catching Fire, however, is one of the best book adaptations I’ve seen. There have been very few and there will be even fewer movies this year that are as entertaining.

Do yourself a favor and check in whatever you thought about the first movie at the door and head to your nearest cinema this weekend to get on this ride. You’re in for one hell of a treat. The Hunger Games have caught fire and I, for one, am still betting on them.

4.5/5

“La Vie D’Adele” Will Be Shown in Lebanon

La vie d'adele poster

This year’s most controversial movie is probably Blue Is The Warmest Color (French title: La Vie D’Adele) by Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche.

It is the winner of the Palme D’or at this year’s Cannes festival. Its subject matter being about a lesbian relationship, however, was thought to be too much for our Lebanese censorship folks so everyone figured the movie won’t be screened in the country, especially after two other movies were banned from the Beirut Film Festival earlier this year.

Good news for Lebanese cinephiles ahead.

As of this moment, however, our assumption is wrong. La Vie D’Adele will be screened in Beirut on Saturday November 30th as part of the European Film Festival that takes place yearly at Cinema Metropolis Sofil.

Tickets will go on sale today at 3 PM. I would assume this screening will be one of few for the movie in the country, if not the only one. It’s simply not the kind of cinema that our theaters would invest in. 

Now let’s hope someone with the intellect of a fish doesn’t get offended prophylactically and makes a big deal out of this.

You can check out the full schedule of the European Film Festival here.

 

Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” Is A Masterpiece

20130928-153524.jpg

Beirut’s Film Festival is peaking early this year, on its opening night to be precise, when Gravity lands onto its screens.

Going with high expectations into a movie is almost always a recipe for disaster. More often than not, movies fail to satisfy that craving you had thought they would, leaving you feeling cheated. I had high expectations for Gravity, it blew them all out of the park with its opening scene alone.

Sandra Bullock is Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first space trip with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). A seemingly simple mission immediately goes awry, as is expected, when Russians destroy a satellite that was orbiting Earth, sending debris flying at bullet-speed towards the astronauts. As their space shuttle is destroyed, Stone and Kowalsky are left to drift in space as they try to find a way to go back home.

Gravity may seem like a typical science fiction movie at first sight but it’s nowhere near that. It’s a gut-wrenching tale of fear, despair, loneliness, friendship and survival. Gravity is spell-binding. Every minute of its 90 minute running time is irrevocably captivating. Everything its characters do is believable, adding to the overall effect of the movie. We had gotten so used to Hollywood blockbusters overwhelming us with special effects in order to turn their movie into a hit that I thought I reached a point where no movie could impress me from a technical viewpoint: hadn’t we seen them all?

What we hadn’t seen was Gravity. The use of special effects and 3D in this movie is not gimmicky, it helps to tell a story. The techniques employed to film the movie are masterful. There are shots there which are so brilliant I have no idea how they were filmed.There’s a reason why James Cameron said this was the best space movie ever made. There’ s also plenty of good reasons why Darren Aronofsky said this is the type of show movie-makers will learn from for years to come. They were both not lying.

Alfonso Cuaron is a visionary. After Gravity, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be on every movie fan’s favorite directors list. His movie makes you feel like you are one with the astronauts as they drift afloat, at the mercy of the gravity-less space they are in. His camera runs ever so smoothly, fluidly, giving the impression that the entire movie is one unbroken shot. His command over his work is so evident that the effect is near-hallucinatory: it draws you in, makes you believe you are one with Bullock as she strives to stay alive, as she fights for every breath she could take.

Bullock is terrific. This could very well be her best acting performance to date. I can definitely see a best actress nomination for her at this year’s Academy Awards, effectively telling her naysayers that her win for The Blind Side a few years ago was not a fluke. Bolstered by great work from Clooney and, at the beginning of the movie, Ed Harris’ voice guiding them all the way from Houston, Bullock takes in every fiber of her character and gives it back to the audience tenfolds. You can see every emotion on her face as it unravels. You can see her tears as they drift off her face (literally). You can feel her elation at times. You can feel her despair at other times. She helps the movie be as great as it is.

If there’s ever a movie that requires you to check in your movie genre stereotypes at the door, it’s this. I am blown away. Gravity is astonishing. It may pull on your heartstrings sometimes, but it’s never sappy. It’s a towering achievement in technique while also being a cinematic experience that is sure to trouble your senses, especially with its epic musical score. If the Oscar race is off to this start, other movies are at a terrible disadvantage. I am in awe.

5/5

Caramel, The Attack, 12 Angry Lebanese on International Best Movies Lists

 

The Guardian has  published a list of the top 10 Arab movies and they featured Zeina Daccache’s Twelve Angry Lebanese on the list, with nine other Egyptian movies of which I haven’t heard.

The list’s author justified their choice for choosing the movie in it being deeply moving and full of humanity. I have to wonder why that movie hasn’t made a splash in Lebanon:

I was on the jury when this won the top documentary award at Dubai in 2009. The director is a young Lebanese drama-therapist who put on a production of 12 Angry Men inside Lebanon’s most notorious prison and filmed the long protracted process. The film was partly an attempt to reform the country’s criminal and penal laws and improve prison living conditions. It also enabled Daccache to extend her drama-therapy work to prisons across Lebanon, and she had started working in Syria shortly before the current conflict began. It is deeply moving and full of humanity, particularly in the way it describes the process of lifting men from a profound states of despair into a renewed desire to live and build a different future for themselves.

As a follow-up to that list, The Huffington Post wouldn’t take it. As such, they published their own list of 6 movies they believe The Guardian missed and included Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack and Nadine Labaki’s Caramel.

On the latter, the author wrote:

Labaki’s film was my in. I’m a relative newcomer to the magical world of cinema from MENA, having been brought up on a mixture of Woody Allen, the works of Fellini and Visconti, all sprinkled with a bit of Lina Wertmüller, and Caramel got me hooked from the first frame. It’s sensual, full of life and each time I watch it, it makes me proud to be a woman. It’s also the reason I yearned to travel to Beirut, and once I got there, I could see Labaki’s lushly constructed characters at every turn. I may be a romantic, but it’s a must watch for anyone who has yet to discover the beauty of Lebanese cinema. And its people. Labaki’s follow up, Where Do We Go Now? is also a greatly entertaining lesson in peace.

On The Attack:

Showcased at the Dubai Film Festival last December, Doueiri’s film is currently screening across the U.S.. The tragic story, of a Palestinian surgeon who discovers his marriage may not have been what it seemed, was what engulfed emotionally, at first. But then the absurd politics that enveloped the project really drove its profound meaning home for me. Lebanon banned the film because Doueiri had “snuck” into Israel to film his project, which of course was indispensable to the truthfulness of the story. A Gulf film organization distanced itself from The Attack though it had partly financed it in development. Of course, Doueiri is now having the last laugh, because his film has been winning prizes and hearts around the world, but The Attack remains a great example of why watching a film is almost always better than watching the news.

Lebanese filmmakers seem to be doing a rather fine job at having their works make a dent abroad.  It’s great to see Lebanese cinema getting such recognition abroad, especially with movies that are not what we’ve come to believe our filmmakers only know how to make.

It is sad that a movie such as The Attack will not be screened here for the most absurd reasons. I had the chance to watch the movie while on a trip to Paris and while I wasn’t as engrossed by it as the French with whom I shared the theatre or other Lebanese who found it highly engaging, I could appreciate the need for such a movie especially given the intense discussion it spurred with the Lebanese who watched the movie with me.

I believe that’s what cinema should do: spring up debate and discussion, especially in this country and specifically when it comes to topics that are still considered so taboo that discussing them can have “treason” plastered all over you. It seems those foreigners appreciate our movies more than we do.