Friday, July 24, 2015

Hidalgo (2004)

One of the most important Arab actors in history—and a personal hero of mine—died earlier this month. For decades, Omar Sharif defined Hollywood’s Middle Eastern man. His performances varied from the cunning to the credulous, from the sleazy to the debonair, but he always brought that mysterious, exotic charm that became associated with the better ethnic roles in Old Hollywood. I originally intended to write a eulogy, but The Guardian eulogized circles around anything I could have written. Instead, let’s celebrate Sharif’s life by talking about his work. I thought I’d start with his last high-profile film: Hidalgo, a mediocre movie buoyed by his warm, charismatic presence.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Escape Plan (2013)

As an Arab-American of Muslim upbringing, the last 14 years have made one thing painfully, ineluctably clear: although I identify as a pacifist and I’ve never even met a terrorist, my fellow countrymen have no qualms about sacrificing my liberty for their security.

I don’t even just mean hate crimes. At any time, any day, for any or no reason, I could suddenly get disappeared by authorities. The feds could immure and torture me in some black site in the heart of America, or I could face even worse treatment in Guantanamo Bay, or face even worse treatment in an unknown facility on the far side of the world, all with no evidence that I’d done anything wrong, at a site specifically chosen to deprive me of the use of a lawyer, with an arbitrary “enemy combatant” tag designed to make sure I can’t use the Sixth or Seventh Amendments. They could intentionally set a prohibitive fine; maybe they just wouldn’t tell anyone they had me in custody at all. They could convince my friends and loved ones that I’d done something to deserve this. (More of them would believe it than I want to admit.) I might never speak to my lawyer, family, or friends again. I might literally never see the light of day again. The staff at these prisons know they could torture, brutalize, starve, and possibly murder me with no provocation and no fear of punishment for decades, if ever. Whatever higher authorities would do to my torturers wouldn’t compare to what they’d do to anyone who’d try to stop it.

You might respond with blandishments about how, as a civic-minded film critic with a graduate-level education, I have nothing to worry about. But don’t waste your time or mine by claiming this has never happened to people who don’t deserve it. Only an idiot would believe that the government only punishes “bad people.”

So Escape Plan—a movie taking place inside “the Tomb,” a super-duper-max, ultra-secret, privately-owned, putatively “escape-proof” prison peopled with dissidents and Muslims—hits home for me.

The film centers on highly-paid escapologist Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) and his attempts to escape the Tomb with the help of curiously solicitous fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Breslin also faces the reptilian Warden Hobbes (James Caviezel) and his violent assistant (Vinnie Jones).

Monday, April 27, 2015

Front Row Central

Hi, everyone.

I apologize wholeheartedly for my absence for these past few months. I recently founded a film review site with some friends: Front Row Central. I feel tremendously proud of our work there, and I hope you all check it out! I absolutely plan to keep reviewing Arab movies and blogging about them here, but you’ll also see them on FRC too. I also started another column there dealing with American road movies: Inner State 5.

My day job has grown unusually demanding, so I haven't had the ability to review movies like I want to, but you haven’t seen the last of me, I promise!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Sea Hawk (1924)

I have no interest in sports. But as a former Seattleite, I know I have to cover this movie at some point this year just because of its title. I meant to get to it right after the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory, but then I just sort of… continued to not give a shit about professional sports.

Anyway, The Sea Hawk—an Elizabethan period piece adapted from a book by Rafael Sabatini—chronicles the transformation of Sir Oliver Tressilian (Milton Sills)—a courageous but arrogant Cornish seafarer—into Sakr-el-Bahr (صقر البحر, which actually does mean “hawk of the sea”), Barbary pirate and scourge of the Spanish.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

With Richard Kiel’s recent passing, I felt like pouring one out for him in the form of watching his most famous role (outside of Happy Gilmore and inspiring idiotic tooth-wear, anyway). So I checked out his first appearance as Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Goodbye, Casey Kasem

A longtime hero of mine passed away this morning. More than any other actor, Casey Kasem always felt to me like the face of Arab-Americans. Whenever anyone asks me about famous Arabs, I invariably find myself naming him first.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Achmed Saves America (2014)

I loathe Jeff Dunham.

I don’t mean to say I have a personal beef with him. Maybe he has a wonderful personality. Maybe he put a lot of hard work into doing all those voices whilst moving his mouth just enough for his less drunk audience members to see the bounce of his Adam’s apple. Maybe he pays his bills on time or buys a round when he goes out with Bill Engvall or Guy Fieri or Joe the Plumber or whoever; I don’t know. I just know that I find his comedy jejune, racist, and insufferably unfunny. He fancies himself an “equal opportunity offender” as he uses bland comedy to effectively monetize racism in the vein of Lisa Lampanelli, but for “equal” opportunity, he spends an inordinate amount of time touting his stereotypical Arab Muslim dummy, Achmed.

So I regret to inform you all that Achmed got a movie, and I regret to remind myself that I’ve now seen it.