THE wait was not too long before the waitress brought us our orders. Similar sized plates were placed in front of us; mine had the food beautifully laid out with a row of shiny green vegetables stacked at one end and the main entrée sectioned apart to form a pinwheel effect. I am a visual eater which means if something does not look good to me I am not going to touch it. Keeping that in mind this is what I saw when I looked at my friend’s dinner plate. There was a mound of food in the middle that looked like it had partially melted. Globs of a white protein substance dotted the surface like oozing pustules. There were thin stringy noodles hanging down around the mound that reminded me of greasy hair. My friend took his fork and stabbed one of the white globs; I expected it to burst open like a pimple. I could not look at him putting it into his mouth. Instead I focused on my dinner, but was immediately told by him that I had to taste his dish. Explaining I did not like the look of it, he insisted and placed a spoonful of his food on my plate. Because I did not want it to contaminate my food and could not push it off, with his continued insistence I just tried it to shut him up; I closed my eyes and put it in my mouth. The flavor and taste was nothing I imagined; it actually tasted good. SURELY I cannot be the only one who looks at something and makes a decision based solely on its looks. If someone thinks sauerkraut looks disgusting, who is it hurting? But when this type of thought process is used to judge an individual, it takes on a whole different set of circumstances. Need I point out how many news reports have been showing violence against someone based solely on their looks? I may have an issue with how my food appears but it doesn’t affect anyone else. Seeing the amount of violence and hatred people have for other people is sickening to me. Having survived the taunts and abuse from individuals who did not like the way I looked has made me extra sensitive to being a witness to such things. This is why I had a challenging time watching this sports drama based on a true story. SMUGGLED out of his home in Iran Ali, played by George Kosturos (Caged No More, Christmas with the Karountzoses), found himself in a small California town just as the Iranian hostage crisis took center stage in the 1980s. How much safer would he be here? This film festival winning movie also starred Jon Voight (Heat, Deliverance) as Principal Skinner and William Fichtner (Black Hawk Down, Contact) as Coach Plyler. I found the story pretty incredible and started to believe George was the real Ali. As for the script I was disappointed at its predictability. It was written in a paint by number fashion where one could easily figure out what would happen next. As I mentioned earlier I had a hard time watching some of the action taking place around Ali; however, it kept me connected to the story since I could relate to it. Despite the predictability the message one could take away from this story is an important one. So much is done these days based on looks without taking the time to look inside.
2 ½ stars
ACCORDING to the dictionary the word chivalry is defined as, “an honorable and polite way of behaving especially toward women.” Believe it or not I remember a time when men would open a door for a woman or give up their seat on a bus or train for them. I can see where maybe some people would be slightly offended if they perceived the action as being dominant or chauvinistic. Personally I do not care if it is a man or woman; I think if the person is elderly it would just be a common courtesy. However, things changed the past few decades; I rarely see anyone giving up a seat on the bus, even if the person is holding heavy packages or a woman is pregnant. I am used to it now but I initially was surprised when I opened a door for a woman and was given a suspicious look. It was not the type of reaction I would have expected, figuring a quick thank you would have been the response. After several times getting similar reactions, it dawned on me that these women may have not experienced a stranger doing a kind gesture for them. What does that say about our society I thought? THOUGH I have seen the same type of scene in the movies, I remember being out at a club with friends and a man mistakenly thought a woman at the bar was single. He walked up to her and started talking; I could not hear him over the music blaring over the loudspeakers. At one point I did see the woman shake her head side to side which I took as her way of saying, “No.” I do not know what the man said but walking up behind him another man tapped him on the shoulder. It turned out the 2nd man was the woman’s boyfriend. Before you could stir the ice in your drink, the two men got into a shoving match and both had to be kicked out by one of the club’s bouncers. I thought the whole scene was intense until I watched this dramatic thriller. UNAWARE the former tenant of the apartment they were now living in used to entertain gentlemen callers; married actors Rana and Emad Etesami’s lives, played by Taraneh Alidoosti (About Elly, Beautiful City) and Shahab Hosseini (About Elly, A Separation), were drastically changed when one of the gentleman callers showed up at their apartment one night. This Oscar winning film from writer and director Asghar Farad (A Separation, The Past) was consistent with his other movies. A well thought out story about human emotions, told in a simple way. I enjoyed the story within story idea with the use of Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman.” The acting was excellent and I will tell you why. These actors were in films I had previously seen by the same director and it did not register with me because the performances were so different in this foreign film. Another reason why I enjoyed this movie was because of my curiosity of other cultures; seeing how the average person exists in their own environment fascinates me. If I had seen this film before the Oscars telecast I too would have picked it for best foreign movie. Persian was spoken with English subtitles.
3 ½ stars
Except for that one teacher in elementary school, I cannot recall someone telling me I could not join or participate in an activity. Now granted I got the message loud and clear during those times where I was picked last to be on a team, so there were certain sports games I shied away from. I remember my summer camp days provided me a variety of activities to explore. There was an archery class where my first arrow hit the metal baseboard below the target, sending sparks up into the air just like in a cartoon. I had a woodworking class where I made a coat rack out of geometric shapes that I painted in primary colors; it hung on my bedroom wall for several years. Based on my past experiences in school PE classes, I would be the last person to be picked to become an aerobics instructor, yet no one stopped me and I became certified to teach classes. When I decided I wanted to learn yoga, no one told me I was not flexible enough so I could not go. I do not have it in my brain to discourage someone from attempting to fulfill one of their passions. If anyone tells me they wish they could do such and such, I usually ask what is stopping them. When the movie Footloose came out I thought it was a fantasy film because I could not believe there would be a law that banned dancing; I later discovered in some circles it really was not allowed. BORN during the wrong time all Afshin Ghaffarian, played by Reece Ritchie (Hercules, The Lovely Bones), wanted to be was a dancer. Unfortunately dancing was banned in his country; but Afshin was determined to somehow express himself via dance. Based on a true story this drama had all the markings to be a tense exciting experience. The story was set during turbulent times in Iran. There was a ban on dancing, the rebellious dancer wannabe, a love interest, conflicts, punishments; everything was here to create a dynamite story. Sadly this movie was incredibly dull. With Freida Pinto (Trishna, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as Elaheh, Tom Cullen (Weekend, Downton Abbey-TV) as Ardavan and Nazanin Boniadi (The Next Three Days, Homeland-TV) as Parisa Ghaffarian; I thought the cast could easily handle the scenes and they probably would have if the script had been good. The parts that should have been scary with intensity lacked power, while the intimate portions were simply bland. This biographical film contained two things I enjoy seeing: people dancing and exotic settings. The desert scenery was beautiful as was the dancing, but none of it moved me enough to become fully involved in this true story.
1 3/4 stars
Humor is the soothing balm that cures the mind’s ailments. A good laugh can expel the dark clouds that build up to weigh down one’s thoughts. My sense of humor leans more toward the satirical instead of cracking a joke at someone’s expense. Since humor is a personal thing it may be hard to know when someone is making a joke when they are not familiar to you. There has been so many times where I have met someone new who said something they thought was funny but I did not get it. I may not understand their joke because when a person tells me something I assume they are telling me the truth until proven otherwise. Now I am guilty of doing the same thing regarding telling jokes to strangers; however, with a straight face I try to say things so outrageous they would be hard to believe. Of course there could be the issue of gullibility; some individuals go through life with a non-skeptical mind. My brain on the other hand has skepticism as its first filter for processing. Once two people understand each other’s sense of humor, the possibilities of eliciting laughter are endless. UNFAMILIARITY with a television show’s humor would lead to dire consequences in this biographical drama. Based on journalist Maziar Bahari’s book, “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love;” this movie covered the time Maziar Bahari, played by Gael Garcia Bernal (Bad Education, Letters to Juliet), was held captive in an Iranian prison while he was there covering the country’s elections. Unable to make contact with his mother Molloon, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Lake House, The Stoning of Soraya M.), he was only aware of his Iranian captor Javadi’s rosewater scent, played by Kim Bodnia (Bleeder, Pusher). Maziar could not believe his captors thought he was a spy due to what they saw on a television show. Using this story for his screen writing and directorial debut Jon Stewart (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) had a good grasp on what was needed to make an engaging film. With well done cinematography, the pacing was consistent even when a scene would jump to a different time period. The cast’s acting was exceptionally good which I felt made Jon’s job easier. For me the story was one of those stranger than truth type of stories where I sat there thinking how could this have really happened. My main issue with this film was how everything stayed on the same emotional level. It lacked intensity for me; however, I may be projecting here. Considering the scenarios, I thought this movie would have been an intense ordeal; maybe the book went into more detail. No matter, with this being Jon’s first time as a director he has no worries of anyone laughing at his creation.
This gentle movie reminded me of a story my yoga instructor told us in class. A group of monkeys were circling several coconut trees. Each of them were gathering fallen coconuts except for one.This particular monkey saw a huge coconut lodged inside the hollow of a tree. Sticking its hand inside, the monkey was able to get a grip on it and tried pulling it out; but the hole was smaller than the coconut. The monkey kept trying, turning the coconut one way then the other; but nothing worked. In the meantime each of the other monkeys was acquiring a small stockpile that would easily last them several days. When all the coconuts were gathered up the one monkey with its hand inside the tree had nothing to show for it. The teacher asked us if we knew the moral of the story; none of us had a reply. He looked at each of us before he said, “Just let go.” All of us sat quietly as we let those words soak in before we attempted our next posture. I am sure each of us in class interpreted the moral differently and I feel the same could be said after viewing this film festival winning movie. Mohammad Amir Naji aka Rela Naji (Children of Heaven, Baran) played Karim, a ranch hand on an ostrich farm. When his oldest daughter Haniyeh’s, played by newcomer Shabnam Aklaghi, hearing aid broke just before an important test in school, Karim had no other option but to make the motorbike trip from his small rural village to Tehran, to get the hearing aid fixed. Upon reaching that bustling metropolis, Karim discovered opportunities that could change his and his family’s way of living; but at what cost? I was fascinated by the simpleness of this film, partly due to the scenes of Karim and his family. There was a charming intimacy created by the story as if I was an undetected observer, seeing a whole different way of life and culture. The pacing was kept slow with minimal dialog, which made the story more real for me. I did not see this so much as a movie but as a fable. For being such a plain and uncomplicated film; it spoke loudly about dreams, fortune and greed. Persian and Azerbaijani with English subtitles.
3 1/4 stars — DVD
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
After I was done watching this movie I sat and wondered if this story would have ever gotten out if the French journalist’s car had not broken down. The movie, based on a true story, stunned and horrified me. The idea that everything was in place for this tragic event to become public, only reaffirmed my belief that there were no accidents, there was a reason for everything. The year was 1986 in a small town in Iran. Journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, played by Jim Caviezel (Deja Vu, The Thin Red Line) met Zahra, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo (X-Men: The Last Stand, The Lake House), while waiting for his car to be fixed. She wanted to tell him the story about her niece Soraya, played by Mozhan Marno (Traitor, Charlie Wilson’s War). However, the town had eyes on this outsider. Despite being told by some townsmen that Zahra was crazy, Fredidoune managed to meet and listen to Zahra’s story. Told in flashback, the story was about Soraya and her husband Ali, played by Navid Negahban (Brothers, Charlie Wilson’s War). When Soraya refused Navid’s wish for a divorce so he could marry a 14 year old girl, Navid came up with a plan that would use Sharia law to solve his problem. Though I prefer to give as little information as possible in reviewing a movie, there is no getting around the fact that Soraya was to be stoned. Watching the scene was brutal for me. And just as horrific was the idea that this could still be happening to women in this day and age. I understood it was more dramatic to have a narrator tell the story in flashback; however, I had this constant feeling of dread, knowing the outcome. With all the men of the town being portrayed as evil, the story seemed a little heavy handed to me. Irregardless, I do hope you get the opportunity to see this film and hear Soraya’s story. Persian with English subtitles.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
I could not wait to post this review, pushing aside what I was working on already. After seeing this film last night, I am happy to report the hype you have heard is all true. Hollywood can confidently welcome into her arms a new generation of filmmakers in the form of Ben Affleck (The Town, Hollywoodland). They say the 3rd time is the charm and that is so true here with Ben’s 3rd outing as director of this movie based on a true story. Ben has shown his true talent is his amazing directing skills. A critical time in history, the story was set during the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis. Six Americans escaped from the American embassy as it was overrun by revolutionaries, finding refuge in the Canadian Ambassador’s residence. It would be only a matter of time before they would be found. Ben Affleck played CIA specialist Tony Mendez who devised an outrageous plan for what most believed was a no win situation. Pretending to be part of a Canadian film crew, he would fly into Iran to scout out film locations then fly the 6 Americans out as part of his crew. To accomplish this never before done rescue operation Tony would need to set up a fake film production company. He turned to film producer Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin (Get Smart, Little Miss Sunshine), and special effects expert John Chambers, played by John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Roseanne-TV), to set up a fake film production company. The pacing of the story was well thought out, skillfully using Alan and John for comic relief as the tension rose to a crescendo. I loved the graininess to the film that added an authenticity to the period being shown. Here is the bottom line: this movie did everything right to give the viewer what I felt was a flawless experience. Along with prime acting, including Bryan Cranston (Drive, Breaking Bad-TV) as Tony’s boss Jack O’Donnell, the story was told brilliantly. Hollywood, the CIA, world governments and real people all expertly handled and meticulously placed in the gifted hands of Ben Affleck. C’mon Oscar nominations, this movie is waiting for you.