I HAD NOT THOUGHT OF HER for some years. She was a friend of a friend of mine; so, we would occasionally see each other at gatherings. Her appearance was always kept to a high fashion level, from shoes to jackets; she did not come out and say where she shopped, but many of her clothes would tell you by the logo or label that was prominently displayed. My conversations with her were kept to light pleasantries. I never knew until later that she had been conducting research on me. In fact, I found out she would always investigate any new men who came into this circle of friends. And by research, I mean she would find out the men’s occupation, marital status, living situation and several other key factors that would determine if they were worthy of her dating them. The thing that I found the most appalling was her use of her employer’s resources to investigate the credit worthiness of these men. She would pull reports that would show a history of the guy’s finances and FICO scores. I could not believe it when I heard about it; she was not looking for love, she was looking for a large bank account as far as I could tell. SHE WAS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF a greedy person. All she was looking for was someone who could fund her whims and purchases, in my opinion. The reason I thought of her after all this time was due to seeing this movie. The story it is based on is a classic one, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. When I first heard this story, the phrase “open sesame,” became part of my vocabulary. What little boy did not want to have the power to open things just by uttering those two words? However, it was this story where I learned about greed. From reading the story, I later noticed there were several movies that had the same message. The Thief of Bagdad, Arabian Nights and Aladdin’s Magic Lamp to name a few, besides television shows such as Scooby-Doo! In Arabian Nights or the opera Ali Baba; over many decades the public has been exposed to this classic story. Now comes along this live version of the animated film from 1992 and again I get the chance to see what greed can do to people; however, I do not think what I saw was what the movie studio intended to show us. FROM A CHANCE MEETING OUT ON the streets, a poor street urchin gets the chance to make his wishes come true. However, he is not the only one. This adventure comedy presented an updated version of the tale. Starring Will Smith (I Am Legend, Wild Wild West) as Genie, Mena Massed (Run This Town, Let’s Rap) as Aladdin, Naomi Scott (The 33, Power Rangers) as Jasmine, Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur, Murder on the Orient Express) as Jafar and Navid Negahban (12 Strong, Charlie Wilson’s War) as Sultan; this now is my 3rd time seeing this version of the story, having seen the original animated film and the live theater production. If you have never seen any of these then you might enjoy this family film more than I did. I knew Will would have a hard time doing a performance that would be as memorable as Robin Williams’ take on the Genie, and sure enough it was just okay overall. Aladdin’s singing voice was not that good to me and I did not find any chemistry between him and Jasmine. The special effects were nothing special; to be perfectly honest, I was underwhelmed by this picture. All I could think of was the movie studio’s greed allowed this film to come to fruition.
2 ¼ stars
THERE WERE THESE BLACK AND yellow booklets/study guides I remember you could buy at a bookstore, which some folk a/k/a students used in lieu of reading an entire book. For example if a student was assigned the novel Moby Dick or Great Expectations, they could buy the study guide of the book. I have to say these booklets were an interesting idea because they did help in one’s ability to understand what they had read in the actual book. This would be beneficial if one had to write a book report or do an oral presentation of a novel. However to only read the bumblebee colored study guide would not give you the full richness of the story. Taking Moby Dick as an example, the description of the story in the booklet would be something like, “A fisherman is determined to catch a big fish.” The study guide would not give one the depth of each character with all the nuances and mannerisms of them. I believe they were only supposed to enhance the reading experience, not be a substitute for the novel. NOW PERSONALLY I HAD SEVERAL of these study guides and not to sound like a “goody two shoes,” but I needed them to help me comprehend some of the passages I had read in several assigned books. Being a slow reader there were times I barely could finish a book before my book report was due. When I read a novel the imagery the author is creating appears right before my eyes. I feel as if I am right there with the characters. For me this is what I feel the reading experience should provide the reader. If an image cannot form I have a hard time connecting to the story; something every author wants to avoid. Another way of describing these study guides is to say they are the same meal as the original novel less the spices and condiments. As I was watching this action drama film based on a true story, I felt like I was missing some of the ingredients. SOON AFTER THE ATTACK ON the World Trade Center an elite group of soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan for a secret operation. All of their military training did not prepare them for riding into a battle on horseback. Starring Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea, Rush) as Captain Mitch Nelson, Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Take Shelter) as Hal Spencer, Michael Pena (End of Watch, American Hustle) as Sam Diller, Navid Negahban (Charlie Wilson’s War, Homeland-TV) as General Dostum and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, Lady Luck) as Ben Milo; the actors needed a better script. The story itself was pretty unbelievable I have to say; from that aspect I was in step with this film. The fight scenes were intense and honestly the outcomes were somewhat shocking to me. However the script went from one battle to another to the point I felt I was just watching several videos of the soldiers’ battles. I never really knew the men’s motivations let alone their connections to each other. There were only a couple of scenes where I felt an emotional connection. In a way this picture reminded me of another war film that was shown in the past year or so, that was mostly tension with little story. Now I do not want to downplay the historical aspect of this story, but the script could not lift it to the level it needed to be in urgent importance. Based on this movie I would have rather seen a documentary about the unbelievable feat these soldiers endured.
2 ¼ stars
*** 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