Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ishtar (1987)

In Hollywood, Elaine May’s Middle-Eastern Cold War farce Ishtar has become synonymous with failure. The film had a notoriously catastrophic production; discord abounded, tempers flared, and friendships shattered. Production went so far over budget that Ishtar became the biggest-budget comedy in history up to that point. May found herself fighting against everyone as well as her own health. Ishtar earned only about 26% of what it cost. Critics called it every name in the book. What started as star Warren Beatty vouchsafing a career opportunity to his friend May ended in a dramatic falling-out between the two and later a breakup between Beatty and his then-girlfriend, co-star Isabelle Adjani, because of this film. May found her directing career destroyed and her Hollywood career in general reduced to a tiny trickle. Only in the last few years has the film become even possible to procure legally in America.

So infamous has its reputation become that to this day, critics use it as a standard by which they judge modern-day box office failures. For instance, Waterworld’s box office failure induced critics to derisively nickname it “Fishtar.”

Road to Morocco (1942)

In their heyday, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope teamed up to make seven Road to… films. Road to Morocco, the third one, made history as the first feature film to have characters break the fourth wall. It serves as a typical example of contemporaneous Hollywood comedies, of the chemistry common in comedy teams in the days of vaudeville, and most annoyingly, of how film portrayed Arabs at the time.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

I never expected see the day when I’d cover a Godzilla film of all things on this blog. But as it turns out, outside of the usual statements on post-Hiroshima Japan, Godzilla vs. Biollante has plenty to say about the Middle East and its role in a burgeoning world of corporate warfare by way of biotech.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Asad (2012)

Although films about Somalia don’t normally fall within my purview with this blog, I found Asad sufficiently moving and the premise close enough to the Arab World to deserve mention.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Aladdin (1992)

Of all movies to contain Arabs, I’ve had the most requests for Disney’s Aladdin. So if it means getting people to read my variegated and usually-angry opinions on reel Arabs, well, then, let’s do this!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Shout-Out: Mehdi Hasan: Islam is a Peaceful Religion

I don't have any movies to write up for the moment, but as I started this blog to spread acceptance of different races and religions, I wanted to post a video that I think will do a lot of good to that end. British journalist Mehdi Hasan weighs in on an Oxford University debate over the peacefulness of Islam, arguing the point—which I agree with—that Islam does indeed have peace at its core.

In a world where people who look like me or grew up in a Muslim family face scorn and derision on a daily basis, I found it refreshing to see such an intelligent voice encouraging people not to hate Muslims, especially with such trenchant and objective arguments.

As with any YouTube video, you probably shouldn’t read the comments. You should, however, follow Mehdi Hasan on Twitter.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Sheik (1921)

Rudolph Valentino’s most famous picture, The Sheik catapulted him to wide-reaching—if ephemeral—fame as an actor… leaving Arab perceptions as the collateral damage.

The Sheik tells a story of what we now call Stockholm syndrome: the Arab sheik of the title kidnaps a patrician, independent-minded European woman, keeping her in captivity until he can force her to fall in love with him. In keeping with contemporaneous gender politics, his scheme actually works… But soon the sheik soon finds himself protecting his proto-Patty Hearst from bandits who have the same regressive views of women as he has.

In order to truly understand this film, one must understand the nature of its male lead and deuteragonist, Valentino’s titular sheik. So I’ll begin this piece with a revelation made at the end of the film that technically qualifies as a spoiler. I’ll reveal it after the jump on the off-chance that you actually care about spoilers for a fairly boring silent romance from 1921.

Alternatively, just watch the film yourself.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sahara Hare (1955) & Hare-Abian Nights (1959)

Based on Turban Decay’s publications so far, you may have concluded that I set out to start a blog based mostly around getting bent out of shape about old cartoons. This post… won’t contradict that.

You can find Sahara Hare here and you can watch Hare-Abian Nights below.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Back to the Future (1985)

Yep. Back to the Future, the 1980s film classic.

Before we begin, I do not debate the classic status of the Back to the Future series. I love the films myself! I won’t do a full-on review here, though, because what could I possibly add to a movie that we all grew up loving that nobody else has already said?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Mummy (1999)

I love pulp adventure stories. I love seeing two-fisted heroes go on perilous, exciting journeys to exotic locales amid the nascent technological and cultural revolution of the 20th century, with the Jet Age looming in the horizon. I love seeing heroes wade into an unknown land with naught but a dulling blade and the help of friends old and new… and maybe a potential new lover. I love bombastic, sneering, sibilant pulp villains who plan to use forbidden magicks or dangerous artillery to take over the world… but invariably seem unprepared for the actual logistics or prep work of world domination.

I haven’t seen The Mummy in years, but people I know swear up and down that it replicates that aesthetic. So I decided to watch it with that in mind and see what happens. Besides, if I wrote up The Mummy from 1933, logically it follows that I should tackle its most famous remake!

I have to confess that I really don‘t care for this poster. Just compare it to that Karloff/Johann-centered miracle of composition below! This just looks so inert by comparison! This one just has the sand-face from the first act, pyramids, and a poorly-mapped polygon serving as an ersatz eye-line. It only has one hue; it doesn’t have any contrast to speak of. Sure, I like the way the light bloom emanating from the large M forms the main lines of composition, but this entire poster still exists at a level of brand identification one step above store-brand food or Chinese bootleg toys.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Mummy (1932)

In my experience, when Westerners think of Arabs in the cinema, they think of four things: terrorists, the Crusades, the Arabian Nights, and…

I love this poster so much. From a compositional standpoint, it just looks amazing. The two biggest words tell us all we need to know: “KARLOFF. MUMMY.” The eye naturally moves from Boris Karloff’s greenish, putrefying presence down to Johann’s contrasting red dress against a giant stone slab.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

Douglas Fairbanks’ swashbuckling Arabian Nights adventure won so many hearts and minds that the world needed a remake! The 1940 version actually hasn’t aged as well as Fairbanks’ original silent film, but I still liked it a lot. Unencumbered by the lack of sound, this version boasts wonderful music as well as some great moments and gorgeous use of color. Speaking of color, this film also marks the first major use of chroma keying in film history!

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour (2008)

As much as I love stand-up, I seldom write reviews of it because of its subjective nature. I’ll happily make an exception with Comedy Central’s Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, though. I can’t overstate how refreshing it feels to see my feelings on the world and life as an Arab-American articulated so adroitly by these awesome comedians.

Shout-Out: Roger Ebert Eulogy at Pre-Code.com

Like any film buff worth his salt, Roger Ebert’s recent passing has had a dramatic effect on me. Ebert, more than any other film critic, made me see film analysis both as something that I could do and as something that I could never master. My colleague in the film-blogging game Danny Reid wrote a nice panegyric yesterday that explains Ebert’s effect on him. I’d have the same sentiments if I could articulate them as well as he does. So go check it out!

While I have you here, check out one of my favorite of Ebert’s takedowns of a guy at Sundance who cavils about a movie made by Asian-Americans that doesn’t “properly” represent their people.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1939)

One Popeye cartoon to go!

I literally could not find a better cover image. Ugh.
Oddly, Fleischer Studios made three Popeye Color Specials and all three had to do with the Arabian Nights legends. This one proved the weakest of the three, but it still has a lot to appreciate for any fan of early animation.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

I have to admit that even in this blog’s as-yet short life, I’ve had a lot of fun with it. Turban Decay has given me an excuse to find something to discuss within most of my favorite film genres. Today, we take a look at a bygone, fondly-remembered one: swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks adventures!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

I love Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. A lot. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. A saner person would dismiss it as a cheesy, fatuous, facile money-grab that harvests a folk tale for royalty-free source material. But I look at this movie and, even with all its many, many flaws, I just see my first role model… and my dad.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)

In my zeal to cover Popeye’s adventure with Ali Baba in the second Popeye Color Special, I accidentally overlooked Popeye’s adventure with Sindbad in the first one!

I must say that I feel very remiss for forgetting this short, as on several occasions, I’ve heard it called the best Popeye cartoon ever made. I’ve seen most of them, and I feel inclined to agree!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves (1937)

Cinephiles like you and I know that cartoons didn’t always fixate on and extol the magic of friendship. Some of them got a bit… well, racist.

You can tell a cartoon came from a different time when its cover image depicts Bluto in blackface and a horde of half-naked dark men advancing on two established white cartoon heroes. You can see the racial commentary plain as day right here. “Can Popeye and Olive Oyl survive the cruel onslaught of the dark hordes of… dark-skinned Bluto?!”

Monday, March 25, 2013

Shout-Out: International Gorillay (1990) at TarsTarkas.NET

No film review at the moment. I just wanted to take a moment to encourage readers to check out TarsTarkas.NET’s review of International Gorillay, a silly no-budget Pakistani accidental comedy that portrays Salman Rushdie as a glorified James Bond villain and a bunch of brothers dressing up as Batman to get close enough to take him down. Along the way, Tars Tarkas writes an excellent history of The Satanic Verses, a side of Islamic history that I actually didn’t know much about myself.

You haven't lived until you’ve read a history of early Islam interwoven with hyper-macho VHS screenshots from some forgotten and now irrelevant invective against one author! Tars did a great job on this, so go read it!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The 13th Warrior (1999)

Jack Shaheen, probably the world’s preeminent source on media portrayals of Arabs, counts John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior among the greatest depictions of Arabs in film. By that metric, this film indeed ranks among the fairest and the most progressive. Does that make it a great film?

Not particularly.

The 13th Warrior does indeed have a laudable portrayal of Arabs, but the film still has large problems with misogyny, mundanity, and missing the point of the original poem entirely.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Four Lions (2010)

I have to admit that I had a lot of trepidation about watching Four Lions. A lot can go wrong with any satire centered around Islamist fundamentalists. Chris Morris and the three co-writers had a lot of lines to toe. The screenplay needed to make the protagonists likable without unwittingly conveying approval of terrorism. The script required farce, gravitas, and memorable characterization without endorsing bigotry or alarmism. On top of that, the film ends on a downbeat, which comedies don't usually attempt.

I think Morris succeeded, and I must say I really like the result.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Visitor (2006)

As a huge fan of Thomas McCarthy, for some time Ive looked forward to writing about his second film, The Visitor.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Dictator (2012)


I already watched The Dictator prior to starting this blog. I didn't exactly care for it. Even so, of films released in the past year, The Dictator and Zero Dark Thirty probably gained the most media exposure of any movies that prominently feature Arab characters, the Middle East, or paper-thin parodies thereof such as this. So as much as it pained me to do it—and it did—I knew that if I wanted this blog to ever attain any real relevance, I had to grit my teeth for the onerous task of actually watching this jejune piece of shit again.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

All right, first review of the blog!

Zero Dark Thirty actually catalyzed my decision to create this blog. I practically felt like I had to after reading some of the decidedly bigoted responses thereto

Statement of Purpose

Welcome to Turban Decay! I plan to use this blog to discuss images of Arabs in the cinema. I want to discuss positive and negative images of Arabs in the hopes that I can play some small part in helping people to see each other as human beings, not stereotypes.