Non-American Won’t You Be My Neighbor Review

We’ve grown to detest sincerity, haven’t we?

Or at the very least, we as a culture have grown suspicious of it. We have a need to see even the purest of kindness through a lens of the pain and suffering that drive it – friendly, neighborhood Paddington, like the friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, was an orphan who subsequently lost his uncle – and we view kindness this way only if we aren’t first investigating the potential selfishness driving what we think is pretense. In either case, even fictional views on empathy and heroism, especially in American media, tend to focus on some kind of trauma. Captain America, who wears the star-spangled banner on his chest, lost everyone he ever loved before even waking up. Perhaps there is no such thing as kindness not born out of cruelty.

Perhaps there is no longer such a thing as American kindness detached from the various specters of September 11th; tragedy is a through-line for us all. Even the cinematic Superman, once a friend, has become a morose figure detached from humanity and the kindness of his “American way.” He was re-introduced to the world in Man of Steel amidst scenes of buildings crumbing into piles of ash, and his stories since have seen him wrestle with aloofness. Where would the citizens of Superman’s city, abandoned by their most reliable neighbor, have looked for the helpers, I wonder? Admittedly, I often wonder this about real American cities nowadays.

And that brings me to Fred Rogers and the new documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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2001 Revisited

Primitive humans, caressing a consummate altar, worshipping, perhaps for the first time. We worship with them. Manmade celestial bodies, waltzing to Johann Strauss II, a flawless union of past and future. We waltz with them. A chilling cyclops, made of ones and zeroes, who ought not to feel human. He does. His victims, flesh and blood, ought to, but feel distant.

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a journey through space and time and perception, and it remains the quintessential celluloid experience. More pertinently, it’s a communal experience, as most great cinema tends to be, eliciting gasps and applause and nervous laughter from even the most familiar viewers, and it recently made its return to theatres on its 50th anniversary.

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harry potter and the cursed child analysis

Broadway’s two-part Harry Potter and the Cursed Child production is a fascinating beast. It brings with it most of its West End cast, acting as direct sequel to the books yet trading on the iconography of the film series, all while making its own unique mark on Harry Potter canon. Picking up from the originals’ “Seventeen Years Later” epilogue, it follows a new generation of characters – best friends Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, sons of bitter rivals Harry and Draco – across four years of their schooling in a matter of minutes, before diving back into time itself.

Time is central to The Cursed Child, both as a fictional construct as well as a force of nostalgia. The play’s relationship to an audience that grew up with these characters is paramount. However, the only “Easter eggs” it trades in are those that, through their exploration, lead to a more complex, more complete understanding of the characters as they enter their middle age. Each adult character – Ron, Hermione, Ginny, but especially Harry and Draco – carries the weight of their past adventures, both the guilt and the glory, in ways that impact their children.

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noblemen review

The New York Indian Film Festival played host to several Shakespeare adaptations this year. Among them were Bornilla Chatterjee’s The Hungry and Abhaya Simha’s Paddayi, relatively direct transpositions of Titus Andronicus and Macbeth, though unassuming upland bullying drama Noblemen decided to use the Bard more obliquely: as a moral backdrop for its twisted tale.

Set in a co-ed boarding school but focusing on boys in their volatile teen years, Vandana Kataria’s debut feature sees a Founder’s Day The Merchant of Venice production host a tale of mercy gone awry. It’s a nuanced piece that spirals into stomach-churning violence (more implied than overt, yet unflinchingly realistic) as the unique nexus of Indian Christian schooling and silent, deadly homophobia come to an explosive head.

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Abu Documentary

Filmmakers are adept at the art of disguise, especially when it comes to their own stories. Sometimes it merely involves a change in name and location – Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy is premised on the director’s real-world romantic encounter – though sometimes it involves experiences being filtered through a lens of genre. Loneliness tone-poems Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) and Her (Spike Jonze), for instance, arguably reveal themselves to be companion pieces on the duo’s failed marriage when viewed back-to-back.

There’s no better visual exploration of this facet of storytelling in recent years than Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Ford’s sophomore effort sees author Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaaal) deal, perhaps pettily, with the emotional trauma of witnessing his wife’s infidelity through a car windshield. Sheffield pens a rural rape-revenge novel in which protagonist Tony Hastings (also Jake Gyllenhaal) witnesses physical trauma through a similar window. While Ford’s film cuts incisively at the often-juvenile heart of this disguise and its misuse by many straight male storytellers, the film’s early moments also feature a closeted gay socialite (Michael Sheen) walking around in the ill-fitting visage of a heterosexual. Disguise, as Ford posits, isn’t just a storytelling tool, but a necessary mechanism for survival. What then, one wonders, begins to take shape when a filmmaker strips away both the secret language of visual narrative – an often obfuscating cipher – as well as the walls guarding the secrets of their own life?

Arshad Khan, director and narrator of Abu, is all too familiar with hiding in plain sight. A gay man from a conservative Pakistani background, his family immigrated to Mississauga, Ontario in 1991 when Arshad was just sixteen – too young to have found his footing yet, but too old for a childhood do-over. The film itself comes packaged as a first-person tale about a boy and his father. “Abu” is a loving term for fathers in Urdu, and the film features “Papa Kehte Hain Bada Naam Karega” (“Father Says I Will Make Him Famous”) from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, the rare Bollywood father-son songs, immediately following its haunting animated opening. However, Abu spans the breadth of a lifetime of experiences, both personal and collective, both hilarious and heartbreaking, as Arshad Khan bears his soul via lyrical voiceover and personal home videos spanning several decades. Read More »

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venus review

I’m going to spoil Venus for you up front: it’s a film that ends happily.

This isn’t so much a spoiler, though, as much as it is a reassurance of what becomes amply clear mere minutes in. It’s a family comedy – in tone, structure and everything else – and thus, it’s a queer narrative that doesn’t wallow in the misery of its protagonist. Things don’t often end well for queer women in fiction (for trans women especially), and so a film that not only centers a trans woman, but does so this lovingly, is undoubtedly worth noting. What’s more, it exists at the nexus of Canada’s queer and Punjabi-immigrant cultures, bringing with it not only a whole host of quirks, but the requisite nuances therein.

Indo-Canadian trans woman Sid Gill (Debargo Sanyal) discovers the teenage Caucasian son she fathered when she identified as a man in her teen years. She doesn’t have the bandwidth to compartmentalize this disruption. Her son Ralph, well… Ralph wants to be more Indian than Sid has ever allowed herself to be, whether in terms of music or language or food. It is, quite simply, a delight.

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the hungry review

The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus is one of the harder-to-adapt Shakespeare plays. Its ultra-violence can border on self-parody if mishandled, and losing that element of the story leaves it somewhat limp. Even when juggled deftly, it’s simply grotesque. Though as with any transposition of the Bard to a modern setting – in this case, New Delhi – it’s the adaptation of context that seems to matter most.

Enter Bornilla Chatterjee’s The Hungry, Andronicus loosely set against family industrialism in northern India. The Andronicus’s and Goths are now the Ahujas and Joshis, agrarian business partners entangled in political corruption on the eve of a family wedding. The play’s basic framework remains, a cyclical revenge saga (minus the rape), though its characters are combined for an easier follow.

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nude review

A row of women, bent over on the river bank, uniform, toiling away at dirty laundry on the outskirts of their village. One of them, Yamuna (Kalyanee Mulay) breaks formation. She turns to dive into the water, and to free herself from the shackles of tradition and gendered expectation. The mere swerve of her foot towards the river feels like an enormous gesture. As she swims to a quiet inlet, she spies on another woman, swinging from the branches, youthful, carefree and detached from concern. But in a moment, that freedom feels curtailed, when a man swims up to the woman on the tree. He is her lover, but there’s something amiss about the setting. Something intrusive about this male presence, sexualizing a moment that ought to feel untethered from time.

Within seconds and without words, Ravi Jadhav’s Marathi-language Nude establishes its emotional stakes, presenting a pristine vision of freedom before snatching it away. The rest of its runtime – a melodic 110 minutes that you’d wish lasted longer – follows Yamuna trying to win back this fleeting feeling. First, by escaping her abusive husband and moving to Mumbai. Next, by becoming a nude model at a college of the arts.

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post Review

A teen fidgets nervously with the pages of a Bible.

This is the first image glimpsed in Desiree Akhavan’s sophomore effort, an equal parts melancholy-and-optimistic gay conversion drama. The antsy teen sits alongside several Bible Study peers – including high-schoolers Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Coley (Quinn Shephard), whose budding, secret romance the film keeps flashing back to – as a pastor bellows about the evils lurking within all children their age. The world sees these queer kids as ugly, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a joyous rebuke despite the darkness it portrays.

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black panther reviews

(Welcome to Road to Infinity War, a new series where we revisit the first 18 movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and ask “How did we get here?” In this edition: we reach our conclusion with Black Panther, a film that finds Marvel reaching its optimum.)

The final stop on the Road to Infinity War is Black Panther, a sprawling superhero epic the likes of which American cinema has never seen. It’s still cleaning house at the global box office just days before its follow-up (a nine-franchise culmination to the Marvel saga), and it’s one of the most important pieces of the Marvel puzzle. Not necessarily in terms of overall narrative – the film is relatively isolated from sixteen of its seventeen predecessors – but rather, as a potentially landscape-shifting benchmark for mainstream filmmaking.

While it’s hard to measure a film’s long-term legacy in just its third month of release, it’s safe to assume that no American film since Marvel’s own The Avengers has had this seismic an impact. Black Panther has flown past all critical and financial expectations (and then some), completing Marvel’s third act turn of stepping outside the norms of Western storytelling – as seen in Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok – albeit to a much more significant degree. It builds on all the tricks of Marvel movies past, dipping its toes in the familiar before transforming the visual and thematic language of the superhero movie entirely. It’s what happens when a studio places its trust in a creative team uniquely suited to the story, and it’ll probably result in other studios taking similar risks on Black filmmakers and other filmmakers of colour, redefining who gets to hold the megaphone of mainstream cinema.

The long-held executive myth that black stars can’t open big movies feels like it’s all but gone, and who knows what other myths will crumble in the years to come.

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