Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review: "The Rugby Player"

As a new New Yorker, I'm not sure if I'm even allowed to commemorate 9/11 like the people who lived here when the attacks occurred. This was my second 9/11 in town and to say that things feel different would be a lie, there are no mournful faces in the subway, newspaper magazines remembering the tragic date are lost between portraits of Miley Cyrus and a Kardashian sister on the tabloids and traffic never ceases; after all this is the city that never sleeps.

As someone who now lives here, and as a human being who can't help but be moved by insurmountable tragedy, I can't help but be more pensive on a date that reminds me that all of this could just end without a warning. What if someone, somewhere decided to hijack a plane, wear an explosive vest or craft a homemade bomb in his basement and I unexpectedly became a victim? These were the thoughts I, morbidly, kept trying to avoid while watching The Rugby Player, a fantastic documentary that celebrates the short life of Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of United flight 93.

Reflecting on one's mortality in the face of other people's death might be the most natural thing to do as people and watching Bingham's life onscreen constantly reminded me of that quote from The Hours in which Virginia Woolf expresses "someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more." This might not be much solace to the people left behind by the deceased, but on few occasions had I been so touched by the consequences of a life that at first glance seemed so un-extraordinary.

The Bingham we know through the news is the gay martyr who decided he'd rather go down with a plane than to see it destroy lives in Washington D.C., the Bingham we meet in the documentary is so much more than that: he's a man. A man who once dreamed of being rich, who starred in silly spoofs of hard rock videos with his friends, a man who at one point decided every memorable moment in his life would be recorded and saved for posterity (would he have approved of all the "found footage" movies we're subjected to yearly?), a man who chose rugby over drama club, a man who once came out to his mom because he promised himself he would do it before sunset on a random day, a man who loved a man, a man who was loved.

The Mark Bingham we meet onscreen is a man we would've liked to know in real life and that is something rare nowadays. "He's still wiser than me" says hi mom, former airplane stewardess Alice Hoagland - a woman so vibrant and warm that she's a Meryl Streep character in the making - as the documentary shows us how she took on the role of activist after her son passed away. Watching her serene demeanor as she remembers her only child breaks your heart, but watching the sense of purpose with which she works to celebrate his life is utterly inspiring. At the screening I attended tonight where she was present, she tearfully thanked her son for showing her her life's purpose and this is exactly where The Rugby Player succeeds as a film.

It reminds us that yes, life can be horrible, merciless and devastating, but it also implies a sort of mystical energy in how everything leads to where it should lead. Bingham's loss was terrible (as were the hundreds of other victims that day) but director Scott Gracheff makes a wonderful point out of connecting randomness and chaos to create beauty. Would Mark ever have guessed that one day he would be remembered in a field in Pennsylvania? Would he have imagined that one day a rugby championship - made for gay players - would carry his name? Would he ever have pictured his mother as a heroine in a cause which she confesses she only understood after her son's passing? The Rugby Player is a precious little film that transcends the limitations of sexual orientation, biographical conventions and  indiscriminate manipulation to remind us that we all have a reason to be in the world and it inspires us so that we tap into it and use it to share love, because in the end that's the only thing that remains.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

I am such a sucker for famous people playing famous people and the trailer for Saving Mr. Banks hit all the right notes (look it's Tom Hanks with a mustache cavorting with Tinkerbell!). It helps that Mary Poppins is one of my most favorite movies ever of course, which is why this poster seems so cute. That might not be the most professional way to describe something, but who can look at this and not think "OMGZ cutest thing ever", "it's Mickey and Mary!" or "awwww" all the way through the theater lobby after they see it?

Disney marketers, you've once again stolen my heart. Have they stolen yours too?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reason #23876 Why I Love "Frances Ha".

Even the casting means something! That's Greta Gerwig as Frances (Woody Allen surrogate figure) with Grace Gummer looking exactly like her famous mother did at her age:


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Help a Filmmaker: "Shape of Day"

I recently got in touch with Bosco Kim, a young filmmaker currently working on Shape of Day, a short film inspired by true events. Bosco has set up a crowdfunding campaign for his movie and told me about what makes his film special, some of his influences and the story's fascinating source.

What is your story about?

Shape of Day is inspired by a true event that happened in Pakistan. The story is about a Doctor who neglects to help a young victim hit by a car. The driver asks the doctor to provide the girl with immediate medical attention. However, the doctor is reluctant to help him because of the driver’s poor appearance. Finally, the doctor agrees upon following the driver and goes out. When the doctor sees the girl victim, he realizes that she is his own daughter. The doctor was given the last chance to save his loved one but he did not realize it. His daughter is dead. The event not only shocked me, but also inspired me a lot. In my version, I as a writer twisted the ending and changed the structure with the idea of a Mobius strip. I treated this story as a moral lesson which is hugely missed out in this materialistic society. This story urges the audience to reflect on their daily life and challenge people’s conscious mind.

You say the story is inspired by a real life event that happened in Pakistan, how do you think the situation would be handled by a Pakistani filmmaker?

I would answer in a different perspective. First of all, I am not from Pakistan. The difference of cultural background is a huge benefit for me because I will not be constricted by Pakistani tradition or culture. I am able to appreciate the beauty of Pakistani culture in a neutral but the artistic perspective. This situation would be similar to how Ang Lee handled the film Brokeback Mountain (2005). An Asian director who directed a movie happened in ........... If this film were handled by a Pakistani filmmaker, he might not be able to deal with the subject matter in a truthful way. However, I might have bring an objective perspective. Or at least I am trying.

How important do you think film schools is for future filmmakers?

This is still ongoing issue whether filmmakers should or have to go to film schools. For my own personal experience, however, it is such a privilege to attend a film school like the Art Center College of Design. Not only you connect with the future filmmakers as your peers, but also the school has invaluable access which helps you to find your specific path in your future career. To me, I will give a huge YES for film schools.

What inspired you to make movies?

Filmmaking is a childhood reflection, sum of all memories, and moments in filmmaker’s life. When I was 8 years or so, I started watching movies and immediately fell in love with it. Filmmaking itself is my passion, devotion, and vocation. It is not only a series of moving pictures, but also a mirror of the director’s soul who wants to make a change in people’s life. Hopefully I can be somebody who can inspire people the way I got inspired by watching different genres of movies.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

These are hard questions to answer. I will try to accommodate. For the inspirational filmmakers; Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Jean Cocteau, Christopher Nolan and many others. For the literary inspirational writers; William Shakespeare, Emily Bronte, Albert Camus and many others.

What movies should we seek out this summer? 

I would say to moviegoers they should watch out for Elysium directed by Neill Blomkamp and Pacific Rim directed by Guillermo del Toro

Why should people invest in your movie?

This is an important question. The moviegoers in these days are getting smarter and becoming more critical viewers. For Shape of Day and my filmmaking career, my film world give the audience a different kind of journey where they thoroughly engage in the moment and afterwards they discuss about my film. Creating my own unique visual look with moral story is a major part that the audience should invest in my movie.

Intrigued? Check out Bosco's campaign right here. If you're interested in submitting your project, don't hesitate to email me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Game of Dump "The Host".

Head over to PopMatters and read my reviews for Upside Down and The Host, which sadly happened to be terrible, but hey...we can't have winners all the time, right?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

If there is one kind of film Naomi Watts has yet to perfect, it's the biopic (yes, yes, but The Impossible doesn't really count, now does it?) yet judging from her flawless makeup, demeanor (that pose!) and the grace with with she presented herself in the teaser, it seems like she'll be stunning as the late Princess Diana. It's good that the film allows us to look at her and be lost in the resemblance, something that never happened with Michelle Williams as Marilyn for example...

What are your thoughts?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Writing Roundup.

Head to PopMatters where I review Harold Lloyd's iconic comedy Safety Last! and the endlessly disappointing Quartet.

Then, visit The Film Experience and read my short take on Rooney Mara and David Fincher's new collaboration and my need for the Dragon Tattoo sequel.

Happy weekend y'all!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

While Watching "A Child is Waiting"... became apparently obvious where Matthew Weiner found all the inspiration for Betty Draper Francis: in Gena Rowlands' character.

Have you seen this film yet? Where do you think Betty sprung from?

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love “2001”

I’ve always had a very complicated relationship with 2001: A Space Odyssey. For starters I am not a fan of Stanley Kubrick: I see why people deeply worship him and I understand why he’s so revered, but I have never connected to his clinical take on cinema in the way I have with Michael Haneke and David Fincher for example. I love his perfectionism and admire his dedication to his craft, but his movies never click with me. Whenever I find myself in conversations about his work, people are baffled when I tell them my two favorite movies of his are Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut.

Besides my lack of excitement for its maker, my relationship with 2001: A Space Odyssey has very Oedipal undertones. Growing up I always tried to learn how to love my dad’s two favorite movies: Patton and 2001. I still remember that first time when he announced we’d be watching his favorite movie and recall being enraptured by the scenes with the monkeys and thought this would be an adventure movie in the vein of The Jungle Book which I loved. Things got strange due to a grammatical confusion; the Spanish word for “monkey” is “mono” so when the word monolith came up I assumed he’d be a king of the chimps, a King Kong figure. Next thing I know “The Blue Danube” is playing and there’s a lady with a weird hat walking upside down. No more monkeys fighting? The whole thing became so boring that I don’t think I made it all the way through the end.

As a teenager in love with cinema I approached it once more and finally finished the whole thing. It was my first time watching the murderous HAL, developing a crush on Keir Dullea and realizing that visual effects had once existed without the aid of computers. However, this time around I found myself being as bored as I’d been as a six year old. I just didn’t get it! Why did I love Citizen Kane, 8 1/2 and freaking Tarkovsky and still saw nothing of value in what most people regard as Kubrick’s masterpiece?

Two day ago I saw the BAM Cinematek in Brooklyn would be playing 2001: A Space Odyssey as part of its “Big Epic Screen” Series and said to myself it’s now or never. Those who know me know that going to the movies is my absolute fave thing in the world and I thought that maybe if I saw 2001 on the big screen it’d finally click with me. I feared that it wouldn’t and that I’d still be out of the Kubrick loop and I also feared that I’d be ecstatic about it, making my younger self feel like a shallow dumbass (but hey, isn’t that what all the classics are supposed to do when we approach them as grown ups?).

Watching 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen was unlike any other movie experience I’ve ever had. For once, I was immediately absorbed into its world. The way in which Kubrick plays with sound before we’ve seen a single image reminded me of the way in which we sing a hymn before mass begins. The movie is preceded by a pitch black limbo in which we listen to György Ligeti’s “Atmospheres”, this was especially interesting to feel as part of an audience. Watching it at home it’s impossible to control external sounds (dogs barking, younger siblings nagging, bells ringing...) but in a movie theater people seem to know they need to be quiet. Sitting in a dark room surrounded by strangers sharing this same experience was almost mystical. For those who think the movie is about the history of humanity, this small moment of darkness was like conveying non-existence. We are born until we listen to Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and see light for the first time.

This feeling is repeated during each of the film’s four chapters, in which we are convinced we are being reborn as more complex creatures. The scenes with the monkeys and the first appearance of the monolith once again filled me with childlike wonder and joy, but this time around by the time I got to space with the characters, I felt a strange sense of accomplishment - as if I’d helped them get there. The last part of the Moon mission chapter also conveyed something I’d never detected in the film before: that final high pitched sound we hear as the astronauts approach the monolith seems to be a desperate cry towards the universe, as if asking why the hell are we here?

By the time we got to the HAL chapter I was completely enthralled, watching the images on the big screen added one more quality I’d never found in previous viewings, as Stanley Kubrick directs a literal ballet of machines. The way every piece of equipment moves and the way every note of the score accompanies these moves, is akin to watching Fantasia; the images and the sounds in perfect unison reminding us why we go to the movies. Needless to say so, the grandeur and majesty of the special effects - which despite their age are more impressive than CGI - had a surreal quality as I half expected the spaceships and pods to burst out of the screen.

In the HAL sequences I also noticed the way in which Kubrick humorously suggests we are being brainwashed by the system. There are several moments where his camera is fixated on the red light that represents HAL and it’s as if it could see into the souls of the audience. We know it can’t, but at the same time it instills a very primal kind of fear in us. These sequences also added a new dimension brought on by silence. Kubrick accurately depicts outer space as a place of complete soundlessness, so the image of an astronaut cut loose from his ship and floating/sinking away into darkness was more terrifying because we couldn’t listen to his screams of despair.

There was also another moment that struck me as inventively wicked: the scene where HAL stops life support on the dormant astronauts and we see their life stats go from natural peaks and valleys to the fatal straight lines. Because we can't look away from it, we're confronted right and there with the idea that there might come a time when we'll need to be saved from our very creations. This doesn't necessarily mean that we should be scared of machines, but that we need to be conscious of even the art around us. In his whole movie as machine dichotomy, Kubrick is reminding us that we are being shown truth by a device that might turn its back against us. This is repeated once again during the last chapter where we see Keir Dullea's character age in a matter of seconds. The fact that Kubrick represented this time advance within a room is an obvious nod to how we as an audience are also aging within the four walls of the theater we're sitting in...

By the time the movie ended, I was completely blown away. The famous light-tunnel sequence almost gave me a seizure, the flight over the canyons of Jupiter was more exciting than anything in Avatar and the eventual birth of the star-child, once again accompanied by Strauss’s ode to Zarathustra, was truly rapturous. Within seconds it felt like a movie and a symphony. The lights went on and I was sent out into the world with a myriad of questions: are all movies meant to be seen on the big screen? If so, does that mean that I haven’t seen many movies because I’ve only seen them at home? Kubrick proved to me that cinema is the ultimate hybrid of spiritual/human connection, but now I also fear that I’ve been spoiled, because I've been once again reassured that truly great movies aren't about story but about sensorial experience.