Hollywood’s Upcoming Movie “Beirut” Checks Off Every American Stereotype About Lebanon

The trailer for Jon Hamm’s latest movie, titled Beirut, and produced by Bleeker Street, was released yesterday. The movie, set in 1982, tells the story of an American officer who finds himself back in Beirut 10 years after his family was killed there to save a friend of his who works in the CIA after he was kidnapped by some Islamic terrorist organization.

In theory, and the fact that the movie is written by the same people behind The Bourne trilogy, this sounds like something that could be fun. Except, once again, an American Hollywood studio decides to whitewash the civil war of a city, and turn its entire struggles about the past and hardships of a white man, who is out of place among the savages he’s forced to exist with.

Here is the trailer:

A Qandahar-esque city ravaged by war: check.

Oriental music with no clear of origin: check.

English spoken like only Americans think terrorists speak English: check.

Mosques on the silhouette of every city shot: check.

Brown kids running around with guns: check.

A terrorist Islamic organization that doesn’t actually exist: check.

The movie not only omits any Lebanese presence in it, but bends the history of the country and of the era that it portrays to make it conform with exactly what Americans think of the city and of the political factors at play. Suddenly, the Israelis are the knights in shining armor trying to save Beirut from its own people, while white Americans roll in to save the day once more.

Those Arabs in the movie? Barbaric savages. Their cities and where they live? Hellholes. Their entire lives? Reduced to kids running around cars with plastic guns.

A movie filmed in Morocco, with no Lebanese cast, with no Lebanese input, with no Lebanese insight – and named after the capital city of a country, while it makes sure to perpetuate the exact notion believed by the people in the country where this movie will most advertise itself.

Representation matters. And this is most important at a time when some creature like Trump is president, a creature that believes any country that is not European is a shithole, and every immigrant from a country that isn’t Norway and friends is a disgrace to his country. In the movie, Beirut, the notion that Arabs are people that exist in an endless circle of violence is perpetuated once more, whilst ticking off every white American’s notion of orientalist Middle Eastern realities. Even the tag line of the movie is “2000 years of revenge, vendetta, murder. Welcome to Beirut.”

Did anyone tell these people that revenge and vendetta are the same thing? Or that the 2000+ year history of Beirut is not about revenge, vendetta and murder, but that a city older than the oldest entity in their country is not summarized by what they think is true of it.

What’s worse is that you’d never find a Hollywood movie, say, that is set in New York portray nothing relevant to the city and be named after it. You’d never find a movie set in any “white” European city negatively portray that city as a terrorist infected haven. Instead, all portrayal tries to stay as respectful as possible to the history of the place they’re showing on screen.

We do not get that courtesy.

I don’t know how Beirut looked in 1982. I was not born back then. But my parents were alive and well back then, and this is not the city they knew. Even in its war-torn buildings, and its own struggles. Even our airport back in the 80’s didn’t look the way it was portrayed in that movie’s trailer. They can’t even afford us historical accuracy – but what do you expect from producers who think all Middle Eastern countries are the same, and that filming a movie in Morocco to portray a city thousands of miles away is fair enough and accurate.

The worst part about the movie is that this is an American take on the Lebanese Civil War – to a certain extent at least – while the war itself had nothing to do with them. And then the release date of the movie is set to coincide with the 43rd anniversary of the Lebanese Civil War, on April 13th.

Dear Hollywood, I understand you have a growing need to be “woke” these days, but being “woke” also involves being aware that other people’s countries and cities are not free reign for you to appropriate into movies whose only purpose is to further perpetuate what you believe is true about those places and those people, as well as fill your pockets with money at their expense.

I, for one, will be boycotting this movie when it’s released, and I invite every Lebanese to do the same. Using our capital but filming somewhere else, using our people but using other nationalities, using our heritage but using other languages, accents and music, and white-washing our entire struggles to fit into the cute boxes that would never oppose the notions of the typical American movie goer, while reinforcing what they think of us, is not okay.

Beirut: A Major Hollywood Movie With Jon Hamm & Rosamund Pike Will Be Released in 2018

Cringe moment incoming, or at least I hope it’s not.

Coming in April 2018 is a major Hollywood movie from director Brad Anderson who’s known for movies such as The Machinist, The Call, and Transsiberian is going to be releasing a new movie featuring Rosamund Pike and Jon Hamm titled “Beirut.”

Rosamund Pike’s breakthrough role was most recently in “Gone Girl” for which she received an Oscar nomination, whereas Jon Hamm is known for his role in Mad Men and most recently in the great “Baby Driver.”

Jon Hamm is Mason Skiles, a former U.S. diplomat who returns to service to save a former colleague, whereas Rosamund Pike’s role will be a CIA field agent working undercover at the American embassy who’s tasked with keeping Mason alive and ensuring the mission is a success, as per Wikipedia.

The movie is also written by Tony Gilroy who’s responsible for movies such as The Bourne Trilogy, Star Wars: Rogue One, Nightcrawler and a lot of episodes of House of Cards.

There’s not much information available about the movie as of now except that it’s about a former U.S. diplomat who returns to service in order to save a former colleague of theirs who happens to be in Beirut from the group responsible for the death of his family.

The project has been in the works since 2015, and was filmed during 2016 in Tangier, Morocco, which has me assuming their portrayal of Beirut is going to be less of how the city actually is and more like a Qandahar war-torn desert city, far from its current reality, especially if the movie is another perpetuation of the civil war reputation surrounding the city.

Ironically, the movie is set for release on April 13th – the memorial day of Lebanon’s Civil War. Coincidence is probably not the case here.

Regardless, I hope the movie ends up entertaining and thought provoking enough. Given the people behind it, I am hopeful it will be the case though it being released so early in the year next year means it’s not really geared towards awards consideration, as much as they want it to be a money grabber.

I bet this movie will also be a hit in Lebanon as people flock to theaters to watch their own capital memorialized in film. I just hope whatever product Hollywood ends up giving does it justice, albeit doubtful.

No trailers for the movie have been released yet.

Wadi Rum: One of Arabia’s Most Gorgeous Places, And A Must Visit For Lebanese Who Like Adventure

As far as other Arabs are concerned, Lebanon is considered to be the greenest of the region’s countries, and despite rampant deforestation and grossly non-environmentally friendly governmental policies, this is actually the case for our little country. Our biggest asset in bringing people to visit us from the region isn’t, therefore, only our “joie de vivre,” nightlife and awesome food, but the fact that we offer them eco-tourism that their countries can’t match. Alas, Lebanon tends to take its tourism for granted.

I was recently in Jordan for a few days during which I had the chance to see some of the country’s main touristic attractions, including their 7 wonders of the world site Petra, and the place that stuck in my head to this very day and the place that I would want to visit again as soon as I can and recommend that everyone do so: Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum is not unfamiliar with many of you. You’ve actually seen it plenty of times before but didn’t know it was the case. It’s featured heavily in the latest Star Wars movie “Rogue One.” It was the filming site of Best Picture nominee “The Martian.” It was also where parts of the second Transformers movie, Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed.

Simply put, Hollywood and Westerners know Wadi Rum exists and flock to it in droves. For other Arabs and Lebanese, however, the place remains near-fictive. When I mentioned that I’d love to visit the place a few months ago, the reply I got was: “what’s there to see in the desert?”

The answer is: quite a lot.

The reputation that we, as Lebanese, have when it comes to our tourism style is that we’re not adventurous. We want good food, nightlife and shopping. To me, that reputation is horrific. I asked many travel agencies about that reputation and all of them corroborated it: this is what they sell. I guess this doesn’t apply to a newer generation of Lebanese, and many of this blog’s readers, but I daresay it’s high time to change that.

  • How To Get To Wadi Rum:

A new travel path between Beirut and Jordan was launched last week, offering direct flights between Beirut and Aqaba for $212 round trip. This path is better than Beirut – Amman because Aqaba is much closer to Wadi Rum than Amman (70km versus 300km).

Once you get to Aqaba, it’s quite easy to rent a car. Your Lebanese driver’s license actually works, or you can have an international driver’s license done to be on the safe side. Oil prices in Jordan are much cheaper than their counterpart back home and car rental prices are super cheap too.

  • What To Do In Wadi Rum:

The Wadi Rum reserve is huge. It’s around 700km2. I daresay there’s no way that anyone can do the whole thing in one stay unless they stay there for a couple of weeks, and that’s not ideal because it’s a physically demanding visit.

Gorgeous scenery: While we, as Lebanese, completely disregard the jewels we have interspersed in our country and don’t bother in their upkeep, the Jordanians have done the total opposite with Wadi Rum: it is a natural reserve that is so clean, so neatly kept and so beautiful. Wadi Rum is the total opposite of the kind of eco-tourism that we can offer in Lebanon: it’s a desert, filled with gorgeous sand dunes, high limestone mountains, sitting on one of Arabia’s biggest aquifers, and is as authentic as a desert experience can be. Your instagram posts will be ace, trust me.

Safari rides: Forget safaris in Dubai. I went on a 4×4 truck ride across the area and this is the real deal. You sit in the back of the pickup truck, and a skilled driver takes you around gorgeous scenery that will leave you dumbfounded. Refer to pictures below.

Bedouin life: Wadi Rum is also home to many Bedouin tribes that still live there. Those tribes will open their arms to you and host you for lunch or dinner. Their cooking style is very interesting in that, to save up on wood, they bury their cooking pots in the sand with the burning embers and let the meat and vegetables slowly cook. I had the pleasure to sit with a Bedouin tribal chief who told us stories of life in the desert, played a little on his rababa and invited us to share a meal with him.

Camel Riding: Western countries also stereotype our countries as the places were camels are the go-to mode of transportation. They’d be disappointed, I suppose, to find out that the first time I’ve ever ridden a camel was in Wadi Rum.

Hiking: I didn’t have the chance to do a lot of hiking at Wadi Rum but there are trails all around the place that vary based on difficulty that those who like hiking will find to be exquisite. My fair share of rock climbing and hiking that I did there was unforgettable, although my legs would probably ask for a break before I do that again.

Sunsets: There’s something to say about the beauty of sunsets and desert sunsets have their own taste that I’m super glad I got to experience. I was able to sit atop one a high rock with a view, look over at a huge landscape in front of me as it turned into hues of gold and orange.

Star Gazing: After the sun set, I was treated to one of the most beautiful starry skies I’ve ever seen. Entire constellations spread in front of you. Just lie there, and enjoy the gorgeous view.

  • Where To Stay:

You don’t need to go back to the city in order to enjoy Wadi Rum for more than a day. The place has many camping sites interspersed here and there, with prices for the night being around $20.

Why It’s a Must Visit:

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing the place is. I spent an entire day there – from 8AM till around 10PM – and left feeling disheartened because I wanted to spend more time and see more places. Apart from it being historic with it being one of the places that Lawrence of Arabia spent a lot of time and its rocks having many ancient inscriptions on them, Wadi Rum offers you quite an experience that Lebanon doesn’t have and I daresay other Arab countries of the region can’t match. It’s unfortunate that this jewel in the Middle East is discovered and used quite often by Hollywood and Europeans but not by the locals or those from neighboring countries like us. It’s cheap, quite accessible with no visa requirements for entry for Lebanese, and you’ll go back to Lebanon with many a chance to tell wonderful stories of your desert excursions. Go there!

Django Unchained [2012] – Movie Review

Django Unchained Poster

It seems 2012 is the year for Hollywood slavery movies. Quentin Tarantino’s foray into the Western movie genre with Django Unchained is the polar opposite of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, both movies about the American slavery era. While Lincoln is about the political scene that led to the abolishing of slavery, Django goes loose in a totally different manner.

Django (Jamie Foxx) is a black slave who gets rescued and freed by German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who is on the hunt for the murderous Brittle brothers and only Django can help him find them. Django’s goal, however, isn’t to kill as many wanted white men as possible. It is to find and rescue his wife Broomhilda (played excellently by Scandal’s Kerry Washington) who is enslaved in a plantation called “Candieland” owned by a francophile who speaks no French called Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio) with his self-hating black butler named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

Stylistically, Django Unchained is daring. The movie’s frames, shots, camera movements are unusual. The amount of gore and blood are also quite proficient. All of this is to be expected from a Tarantino movie who, as usual, delivers a riveting piece of cinema that will keep you hooked for over 160 minutes.

Tarantino, who appears in the movie in a cameo scene towards the end, wrote this movie as well. While the story isn’t very new and the overall ambiance is fairly typical for the Western genre, it’s the execution that makes up for it here. You can’t help but marvel at the technical execution of many of the movie’s scenes. Django Unchained is very bold in more than one way, notably as it showcases in subtle shades of drama mixed with comedy the horrors of slavery and racism.

The movie’s acting highlight is Leonardo DiCaprio who gives a tour de force performance of his character. In a way, while the movie goes off to a good start, it doesn’t find its footing until DiCaprio’s character comes into the picture to help make things much more interesting. Both Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx are great in their respective characters, excelling in scenes that find the two working together towards their goal, the latter with his comedic tendencies and the former with his sharp ability to navigate between cruelty and compassion in a heartbeat. Samuel L. Jackson makes his best at making his character downright unlikeable. You will hate that butler-slave. In a way, the Django-Shchultz duo is the polar opposite of Candie-Stephen.

Despite being un-needingly violent at times and despite being overly drawn-out towards the end as the movie tries to reach its conclusion, Django Unchained is at the end of the day Tarantino’s take on an era of American history that few Americans want to remember. Django’s charm isn’t that it’s fast-paced, keeping you hooked all the time. It’s all in its characters. Dr. Schultz isn’t mystified by Django’s humanity. He sees it clearly and is taken by it. He clearly knows that slavery is bad, not for political reasons but for humanitarian purposes, which is where Django and Lincoln veer off thematically. Django isn’t resigned to his fate – he is resilient, always fighting, always aspiring for more, always opposing the likes of Candie and Stephen who want to bring people like him down.

And it is here that Django Unchained excels: in seeing all those different personalities interact on screen. Towards the end, you forget that the movie has had about five thousand bullets fired and a growing casualty north of three hundred deaths (I did not count). The only thing that remains fixed is that these people whose lives you’re seeing unfold (or end) in front of you are highly interesting, to a backdrop of a very eclectic musical soundtrack and the vision of a director who makes the aforementioned historical era entirely his own.

4/5

Les Misérables [2012] – Movie Review

les-miserables-movie-poster

As a person who grew up and went through a French curriculum with Victor Hugo’s novel as its centerpiece at many points, I’ve grown attached to the essence of the novel. I’ve also grown to understand it, know what it contains, understand the message that Hugo wanted to pass on. I’d even joke and say the novel’s impressive spine is a byproduct of Hugo being French – a lot of blabbing for nothing. I’ve taken some of that, as is evident by my wordy blogposts at times. This review will surely turn into one so just skip to the last paragraph if you don’t feel like reading.

My knowledge of Victor Hugo’s most famous 1500-pages novel has led me to conclude that it’s very difficult to turn it into a motion picture. If the previous attempts at this novel weren’t enough proof, Tom Hooper’s take on Les Misérables adds to the growing list of not-nearly-there trials.

The story is known for everyone by now. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is a French man living around the time of the French revolution and is forced to steal a loaf of bread to save a relative’s life. He is subsequently thrown in jail for 19 years at the end of which he’s released on parole. Valjean, however, breaks his parole and ends up making a decent life for himself as the mayor of a small French town in Northern France called Montreuil-sur-Mer. But Javert (Russell Crowe), the prison warden who was in charge of Valjean, appears back in his life during a visit to the factory run by Valjean, now working under a new name. In that factory works a single mother called Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who gets sacked from her job when her secret of having had a child out of wedlock, Cosette (eventually played by Amanda Seyfried), is discovered. Fantine eventually succumbs to becoming a prostitute and is saved by Valjean who promises to take care of her daughter as he runs away from Javert who’d do anything to catch him, to the backdrop of a growing revolution in the streets of the French youth.

Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is a full-blown musical. No, it’s not a musical in the sense of a talking movie with a few songs interspersed here and there. It’s a musical in the sense of three hours non-stop singing where even “thank you”s are sung, where reading letters becomes melodic and where, if you’re not a fan of musicals to begin with or not entirely sure what you’re getting yourself into, you’d end up wanting to pull your own hair out. Yes, this version of Les Misérables is definitely not for everyone. Even if you love – scratch that – adore music, Les Misérables might prove a very tough pill to swallow. And at times it really, really is.

Hugh Jackman, who can sing, ends up grating around the 120th minute mark. Russell Crowe on the other hand entirely sheds his Gladiator image for a singing Javert and with his not-so-pleasant singing voice ends up entirely intolerable a few minutes in. Russell Crowe even looks entirely uncomfortable to be there and it reflects on his character, making Javert – a central figure to the story – comical at times. Hugh Jackman has to be commanded for a job well done as Valjean. Few actors can say they can deliver performances as he did with the close-ups he got throughout the movie.

In fact, the actors and actresses in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables all performed their songs in the movie live. While a piano played in the background to guide them, they acted their songs instead of recording them months in advance and eventually lip-synching them to film.

The single acting performance in the movie that will absolutely blow your socks off is Anne Hathaway, who’s probably aided by the fact that her character isn’t there for long. Hathaway, as Fantine, is brilliant. She deserves all the praise she’s been getting. Her performance of the Susan-Boyle-made-famous song “I Dreamed A Dream” is gut-wrenchingly stunning. She brings the life into her character and gives Fantine a richness which other actors in this movie with more running time couldn’t bestow upon theirs. Hathaway steals every scene she’s in and ends up being the only reason you might walk out of this movie feeling like you hadn’t wasted three hours of your live. Just to watch her do what she does so beautifully. No one is raining on Hathaway’s parade come Award-season time.

Interesting casting choice include Samantha Barks as Eponine, the daughter of the Thénardiers, played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen whose only purpose was to add some comic relief to some tense moments. Barks sings her songs really well and gets you to relate to her character, despite the background. She delivers a nice rendition of “On My Own.”

Les Misérables does have its strong moments, notably the opening scene, Hathaway’s minutes and the ending, but the movie accumulates a lot of off-moments as well that make the result very lopsided. The movie is also extremely long. Thirty minutes (of wailing – singing) could have easily been cut with the story not be affected because few of those songs tell us more about the character and its story, an example being I Dreamed A Dream in which Fantine tells the story of how she reached the misery she was in. The overall result is a movie that feels very in limbo: okay, not great, this is awesome, this is horrible, goosebumps, kill me now. These are all things you will feel while watching Les Misérables.

3.5/5 – – new rating system.