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THROUGH WEEKLY REVIEWS
This blog will try to outline the best of both worlds so that you can save time and avoid a bad experience or relish in a good one. Find a good date idea, relax with a good movie or learn more about a restaurant you’d like to explore.
I’ve compiled a list of movies (dramas, musicals, comedies, documentaries, etc…) that take place around the world so that you can safely “travel” from home. They are set in different countries and show off the country’s natural landscapes, culture or picturesque cities. If you think of any other ones, please let me know!
I’ve categorized them by continent to make it easier!
Kenya — The First Grader
Based on a true story, this inspirational tale follows an 84-year-old man who takes advantage of Kenya’s newly established free education to enroll in elementary school and learn to read. We get to see rural Kenya on his route to and from school!
As Niger’s first entry submission for the Foreign Language Oscar category, this is a movie you don’t want to miss! Also, look at the cinematography
Where to watch The Wedding Ring (Zin’naariyâ!): YouTube
Multiple Countries — The Endless Summer
Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa aren’t the first countries that come to mind when you think of surfing, but this ode to surf proves that its appeal is worldwide. The subjects of the documentary also travel to more traditional surfing parts of the world, like Oceania and Hawai’i.
Hear me out. It’s easy to write off Keanu as a silly comedy about a kitten especially in comparison to Get Out, when the latter is one of the most impactful and intelligent movies about race and the black experience that ever existed. But with Keanu, Jordan Peele—along with long-time collaborator Keegan Michael-Key— paved the way for his fanbase to be ready to take him seriously as a director and as someone who has a valuable voice in the dialogue about racial makeup, and the identity woes that come with it. He also gave us hints early on about his predilection for the horror genre. In turn, this allowed Get Out to have massive success and critical acclaim. This exploration of black identity and of the horror genre is apparent all throughout Keanu and also prior to that, on Key & Peele.
As two biracial writers and performers, Key and Peele often explore their own blackness through their art and the unique perspective of being biracial in the Obama-era.
But while Key & Peele did not shy away from racial conversations, Keanu dove deep into a very specific exploration of black identity. Specifically, that acting “hood” was acting “black”, thus equating a certain attitude with an accepted and expected societal role disparagingly attributed to adult African-American males. Scared that their whiteness was a liability amongst other black people, Keanu looked into the recesses of the role of a black man in society, a theme used in Get Out as well. Rell and Clarence must don a sort of “black character” in Keanu, in order to infiltrate the tough gangster operation who stole Rell’s cat. For them to be respected and welcomed into that organization, they speak in a lower tone of voice, hide their emotions and use the n-word. This functions as a beautifully succinct depiction of the routine code-switching that black men face, and the behavioral expectations that come with skin color.
“Clarence: Yes, I’ll take a white wine spritzer
Rell: Clarence, you can’t talk like that here!”
So while the premise of Keanu is pretty comical (a dramatic search party for a kitten) that doesn’t mean the essence of the comedy and what’s being said underneath isn’t an honest examination of the issues black men face today. Get Out tackles those same themes more directly and more artfully, which is the reason it won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, but comedy can open up a dialogue and communicate a message just as well.
Comedy is a great way to say what you want to say. To couch truths under jokes and slowly invite your audience to think critically about a situation. Jordan Peele, a massive horror fan, saw the similarities between both comedy and horror genres and used it to his advantage.
The Horror Genre
A lot of horror is predicated upon the same structure as comedy. Build tension → release tension; set up scenario → unexpected reveal. It would make sense that a comedic master could transpose his similar set of skills to horror.
Since Jordan Peele first started concocting Get Out in 2008 when watching the Obama-Clinton debates, both fighting for the Democratic nomination for that year’s election, we know that the story of Get Out was brewing in his head while he made Key & Peele (2012) and Keanu (2016). We also know Peele is a big fan of horror films.
As a showrunner and writer, Peele was able to include many sketches with a horror lean to them in Key & Peele. This is most apparent in parodies of iconic films from the genre, like these…
In the clip above, we see the language of horror being expertly used. Though it’s for comedic purposes and for twisting those situations on their head, the sketches ring true because there’s a deep knowledge of the genre. Dismantling the oft-sought tropes we so commonly associate with horror requires a certain depth of knowledge regarding its mechanics. The comedy, and the point of each sketch, arises in these questions: “what if?” and following that, “how would that look like?”. That is how the idea is formed and what makes up the clear premise of the scene. “What if someone mistook a zombie raccoon with a zombie during the apocalypse? How would that look like?”
“What if the torturer gets tortured? How would that look like?”
“What if zombies were racist? How would that look like?”
The frenetic dialogue, the quick pacing of the camera moment, the visual vocabulary of special effects, color tones and wardrobe/makeup. They’re all present here. We can see Peele’s knowledge of horror at play.
By using the comic device of “what ifs?”, Peele allowed us to explore the horror genre through the lens of critical thinking. Most horror genre movies have a message. Dawn of the Dead is about mindless consumerism, The Babadook is about grief, and so on…
In the same vein, Get Out is about slavery and the prison industrial complex or more globally as the experience of being a black man in contemporary American society.
Get Out uses that technique of “what if” by showing us a manifestation of what it feels like to be black today. “What if hypocritical blank support and the appropriation of black culture was concretized in an apparent way?” “How would that look like?”. We see the deeply meaningful and gripping sequence in Get Out when the hero, Chris, falls in the empty hypnotic abyss of the “sunken place”. In the same way, Keanu showed this sort of other-wordly, dream-like, metaphorical sequence when Clarence gets visited by Keanu as a spiritual guide. Both scenes are very different in tone and in message, but by including that sort of surrealistic scene in Keanu, Peele primed his audience to be ready for an even more impactful use of that type of scene in Get Out.
Though both Key & Peele and Keanu helped pave the way for Get Out, Keanu ultimately cemented Peele as a feature film screenwriter who can create box office appeal. Sketches are short by nature, and writing Keanu proved that Peele could sustain the pace of a longer movie. I’m very thankful for both these movies for different reasons and I believe that Peele’s previous work informed Get Out and that his departure from comedy to horror is less unexpected than we might think.
With quick back and forth, clever writing and a talented cast, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has earned its spot as as one of the most side-splitting half hour comedy TV shows of the last ten years. But most people don’t think of it when they picture a good reference for diversity in network sitcoms. After all, it’s a workplace comedy about goofy cops where Andy Samberg plays the lead. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine is actually one of the rare, high-profile comedy shows that demonstrates how diversity makes for better TV and storytelling.
So how does Brooklyn Nine-Nine do diversity right?
The Characters are Not Defined by their Race or Sexuality
Each member of the squad has their own individuality. Through characterization and avoiding stereotypes, we start to see them as three dimensional people. Even though their genetic makeup is not ignored, it isn’t the extent of their character. For example, Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago are both Latina police officers. In the show, they don’t constantly mention their ethnicity but instead they casually refer to it, like a person would in real life. The other members of the precinct relate to them more through the fabric of character and the comedy comes from that. Amy is a Type-A who gets off on organization and Rosa is a badass who never talks about her emotions.
Another part of the squad is Captain Holt, a gay and black police captain. He has a husband and likes classical music, but at work he’s mostly known for his robot-like love of order and precision. The jokes directed at these characters’ expense are not based on things they cannot change (like their race/ethnicity or sexuality) but by the personality they exhibit, their aforementioned quirks. A TV show that wanted to forcefully shoehorn diversity without having real, relatable characters like these would have had the Captain’s sexuality and race (or Amy and Rosa’s ethnicity) as the punchline for their jokes. The unchangeable essence of their character played for laughs. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, their race and sexuality are just one of the facets that make up their character. The comedy comes mostly through the characters’ distinctive mannerisms.
On the other side of the spectrum, Hitchcock and Scully are two straight, middle-aged white men who are more inappropriate than the rest of the squad. The humor that stems from these two characters is directed mostly at them and not shared with them. There is a difference. Their inappropriate behavior is not accepted and called out. The butt of the joke is rather “just how gross, gluttonous, out-of-touch or lazy can Hitchcock and Scully be?” as opposed to a complicit acceptance of their off-handed remarks.
The Precinct Exhibits Respect and Self-Awareness
When Charles has a crush on Rosa in the first season and she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, he does not press the issue, make her feel uncomfortable or try to convince her. Instead, he understands, moves his affections towards someone else and treats her as a friend and respected colleague. In that same season, he even takes a bullet for her. But it was only out of professional duty and never expects any affection in return. He is also a big supporter of her subsequent love life!
Also, Jake is acutely aware of his male privilege and of toxic masculinity, and attempts to dismantle it — not an easy feat for a cop whose favorite movie is “Die Hard”. Here are a few considerate, feminist quotes to get an idea:
The show tackles uncomfortable topics
Though it’s a comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t shy away from some pretty heavy topics. A run-of-the-mill sitcom might explore some darker realities (maybe in the form of an anti-drugs PSA?) but this show goes to the heart of some current issues, like racial profiling and sexual harassment.
In Season 4 Ep. 16 “Moo Moo”, we see Terry confronting a harsh truth about American society. While Sgt. Jeffords is off-duty in his neighborhood, he is arrested by a fellow officer, for the simple reason that he’s a black man. The African American paradigm of being targeted, profiled and unjustly abused or attacked is a sad racial reality that continues to exist in this day and age. When you look at the likes of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile and countless others; getting aggressed and shot by a police officer can become a daily fear. And it’s especially hard to know that the police officers who harm them are usually protected under vaguely defined laws and don’t suffer any retribution for their abuse of power or murder. If interested in reading more, read this illuminating LA Times Article. In “Moo Moo”, Terry also has to grapple with the ethical corruption and racism within his own police organization.
Likewise, in “He Said, She Said” (Season 6, Ep.8) Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t tip-toe around the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Amy takes on a case that appears to be an innocent office-related injury at first glance. When she digs a little deeper, she finds out the injury was a result of self-defense against sexual assault. But the victim initially decides to drop the case because of the negative effect coming forward would have on her her career. On top of that, Amy wrestles with the memory of her own assault which happened when she became a detective. By relating it to her own experience, we see how morally abject and predatory a police station can be. We also see that fighting for this case is helping Amy cope through her own trauma. By delving into Amy’s psyche, we explore the issue of having to face your aggressor at your workplace through the lens of a familiar character.
So while these are both very charged and painful topics, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s approach is tactful. They highlight the injustice and the struggle and air topical episodes that address everyday issues that pertain to police brutality and the “#Me Too” movement. They create an inclusive environment where different voices are being heard and different experiences are broadcasted. By doing that, we get a richness not only in the substantive variety of characters but also in the depth of the storytelling.
Through the use of three dimensional characters and by tackling urgent topics that might be glossed over in less aware sitcoms, Brooklyn Nine-Nine shines through as a solid reference point for how to use diversity in comedic television.
I’ve only watched Terrace House: Opening New Doors but there are several different options based on several different Japanese cities. There’s Tokyo, Aloha State and more. I haven’t watched all of the different ones so I can’t comment on those directly, but they all follow the same premise as Terrace House: Opening New Doors.
The premise is simple and conventional. Six young people live in a house and we follow their interactions and budding romantic relationships. It’s like “The Real World” Japanese edition. And “The Real World” is arguably the first popular reality TV show format. But while Terrace House keeps in tradition by using the same general format; the feeling is a lot different.
For starters, Terrace House: Opening New Doors takes place in Karuizawa. It’s in the Nagano prefecture — a bullet train ride away from Tokyo and a short car ride from the ski slopes. More of a small town feel, we see lots of natural scenery, snowboarding and playing in the front lawn. The pace is slow and the turn of the seasons allows us to see the house year round.
What exactly makes it gentler? Here are the main differences.
The Naturally Occurring Drama
Whether it’s The Bachelor or Real Housewives or pretty much anything that can be considered Reality TV, a lot of it is either fake or very well orchestrated. Reality TV is ironically not very “real”, but more artificial. That doesn’t make it any less entertaining, much like wrestling is for their fans. It’s about the stories, the betrayals, the power struggles. That is why people tune in. Whereas the Bachelor was in hot water for a copious amount of producer intervention (they would tell contestants that they won so that they’d be upset when they didn’t, amongst many other things); Terrace House is unscripted and doesn’t seem to be orchestrated.
There are no quick cuts, no slow mo reaction shots, no “throwing water in the face” moments or instances where someone slaps another.
Instead, the drama organically swells from the discomfort of getting used to living with strangers and with group dynamics. Friendships form, love interests take shape but in a slow and patient pace. Love triangles are very respectful of people’s feelings. And love stories are kindly followed from a distance.
The best romance story was between Shion and Tsubasa. It took a few months between their first date and their first kiss. We were able to see a more natural development of their feelings, constantly evolving with each thoughtful gesture or stolen moment rather than a more sensationalized storyline. They did not scream at each other, nor did they passionately make out. This was… oddly refreshing.
The Freedom of the Contestants
Adding to the absence of constructed drama or producer interference, the contestants are pretty much free to do whatever they want during the day. They still work at their jobs, still meet up with their friends; maintaining their careers and social lives. This is more relaxing because often, the show is the reality stars’ livelihoods, so they fight for the spotlight and blow little things out of proportion.https://filmreviewsblogfood.wordpress.com/media/3f22040ec98a5bbaf9ee52fd8dac873bRemember this iconic KUWTK moment?
Terrace House members can also choose when they want to leave. They are never pushed out of their comfort zone and can leave the house at any time, for reasons as simple as: they’re not finding love, they want to focus on their career, or they’ve gotten enough from the experience. This freedom is quite different than “Survivor” or “90 Day Fiancé” where the rules and time parameters are already set in place. Because it’s a leave-when-you-wish mentality, Terrace House has a lot of turnover. The cast changes completely by the end and we see a lot of new faces!
Litany of commenting hosts
The third way it’s different than a lot of the reality TV we normally digest was the presence of many hosts, called “panelists”. There’s usually one standard host on most of the Western-world reality TV, typically as someone who explains the rules of the situation to the contestants or as their moderator. The hosts interacts often with the contestants. In Terrace House, the hosts never interact with the people living at the home. They are instead, watching the show with us and then commenting on what they saw.
They interact more with the viewer and share opinions on contestants’ personalities and concoct predictions about romantic entanglements. There is also as many hosts as there are house members. Six hosts (also divided into 3 men and 3 women) who talk for a a while after every act break. The hosts are an integral part of the show and become just as important as the house members. You wait to see what they have to say, and try to make sense of what we all just witnessed together. Having this “critique chorus” helps the viewer understand what’s going on and feels like a gentler way to show Reality TV. By bringing the audience into the conversation and not telling us how to feel, it provides a more organic experience. We are all watching the same thing in real time.
All these things make Terrace House a nice Japanese alternative to reality television. Refreshing, patient and free: a kind approach.
The real thing Driveways has got going for it is its quiet power and simplicity.
I was able to watch this movie because of a program my local movie theaters are doing. They banded together in order to let out new releases for which you can buy virtual movie tickets. I got an online “movie ticket”, and supported my local theater all without leaving the home. Even though it wasn’t the thrill of “going to the movies” it was the next best thing. If your city does something similar, it might be worth checking out!
Driveways is about an Asian American family who moves into a dead relative’s home in order to clean it out. The family is made up of a mom Kathy (the estranged sister of April, the late relative) and Kathy son, Cody. Though it goes back and forth between both characters’ points of view, this seems to be mainly Cody’s story. We understand the predicament they find themselves in mostly through his eyes. It’s also a story of acceptance, being an outsider, and friendship.
They befriend their Korean-war-vet neighbor Del, who is significantly older than them. He is played by the late Brian Dennehy. This was his last movie, and it was fortunately a compelling and moving one.
So, what was so enjoyable about Driveways?
The Powerful Subtlety
Themes of loss, decay, and regret are treated with respect and aplomb. Directed Andrew Ahn gently guides the audience towards understanding the implications of losing a family member. A family member that not only left behind a fraught sibling relationship, but also a hoarder-level amount of belongings to sort through. In some ways, the cleaning of the house for Kathy was the reparation of the broken relationship between the two. By taking on the task, sifting through all of April’s possessions and staying in her home, she learns more about her sister than ever before. They didn’t know each other much as adults, but by bonding through her sister’s earthly possessions Kathy became friends with April, from beyond the grave. And the subtle message of understanding an eccentric family member and accepting them for who they are comes through.
The Simplicity of the Story
Not much happens in Driveways, taking more from everyday life than from a typical movie structure. Aside from minor difficulties, there was no major conflict in the movie. Instead, there were major internal conflicts. Those took the shape of feelings of regret, and that simply being alive was a conflict in its own right. The real estate agent was super helpful, Cody became friends with the neighbor instantly, etc… but the mom was also struggling emotionally with the weight of the house and its financial implications and Cody struggled with fitting it and finding a play partner. He eventually found one in their neighbor Del and they struck up a May-December friendship. The neighbor’s internal conflict is his fear of aging, and the regret he feels about his reaction for not supporting his daughter as much as he could have when she came out as a lesbian (many years beforehand). These issues are not fantastical. They are common problems which tap into a broader picture of simple, yet very human, experiences. The simplicity of the story, and the time dedicated to each character allows us to follow their struggle.
Driveways doesn’t speed up the process just so that it can fit into the framework of a bookended movie.
Lush setting and evocative score
Shot in Poughkeepsie, NY, the backdrop in Driveways is gorgeous: green, lush and full of bucolic shots of a pleasant summer. The richness in the nature surrounding them only enhances the powerful relationships. The movie almost seemed like it was lit through a green filter, creating a relaxing tone. The green tone could also symbolize the internal growth each character makes. Kathy decides she might want to stay in the house, Cody is no longer scared of playing with friends his own age, and Del accepts a change in his life. The setting therefore functions as a vehicle for the characters.
The score was a pleasant surprise. Much like the exterior, it created an ambiance of serenity, simplicity and emotion. [composer] manages to evoke the same feelings of growth, struggle, and regret that the characters go through.
Disney’s remake library is about to get just a little bit bigger with the news of the live-action remake of their 1997 animated hit, Hercules. Hercules and Aladdin just so happen to be two of the most well-received movies from the 1990s’ Disney Studios renaissance. 2019’s Aladdin was a disappointing remake. Though it did fine at the box office, it was panned by critics, received a 57% on Rotten Tomatoes (as opposed to the original’s 95%) and understandably stirred controversy online for not addressing the harmful Arab representation of the first one. So if Disney wants to avoid another Aladdin situation, what are the pitfalls they can avoid with Hercules?
Changing the tonal nature of the movie.
1992’s Aladdin and 1997’s Hercules shared a similar light-hearted tone and colorful animation.
With Guy Ritchie at the helm, the 2019 Aladdin created kaleidoscopic chase scenes with dynamic camera movements. Though stylistically interesting, the cinematography and quick editsdid not fit with the family friendly, fairy tale-esque tone of a starry-eyed Disney movie. Though a Guy Ritchie trademark, the chase sequences and action packed moments did not fit. Aladdin should not resemble Sherlock Holmes or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Instead, it should adopt the whimsical, soft light and wonder-filled tone of a kids movie. Trying to clumsily incorporate two different tones will dilute the quality of both. Though 2019 Aladdin tried to inject as much color as its original, it still felt as if it were tinted with a cold, bluish filter, therefore making the magical elements (Magic Carpet, Genie, etc..) seem more computerized and less whimsical.
Hercules has an analogous child-like innocence to it. A simple and strong story added to a colorful animation to create its tone. By using vibrant colors for the Gods and darker gradations for the underworld, we got another element of visual storytelling.
The Pitfall: turning it into a Beowulf -type greyscale gritty remake and veering too far away from the warm and friendly tone of the original.
Trying to Recapture the Magical Performance of the Original.
One of the biggest similarities between both animated versions is an incomparable voice performance.
For Aladdin, that was obviously the Genie. No would could ever churn out a performance with more comedic ability, energy and stream of consciousness improvisation than Robin Williams. That was unmatchable voice work. Though a valiant effort, even veteran voice actor Dan Castellaneta (who plays none other than Homer Simpson on The Simpsons) voiced the Genie on the animated remakes, which were not as well received.
In the 2019 version, Will Smith did the best he could, but he tried too much to be like Robin Williams, the larger-than-life, pop culture referencing comedian who talks a mile a minute. What that did was only remind the audience that he was not Robin Williams. It was too similar of an interpretation of the Genie and so Will Smith had the misfortune of having an insurmountable task: trying to replicate -or worse- improve upon Robin Williams’ performance. Will Smith is a good actor so he muddled through, but asking him, or any actor, to operate and think like Williams is an impossible demand.
James Woods’ “Hades” tour de force performance is uniquely brilliant. His wit, dry, deadpan delivery only elevates the movie and crystallizes the drama and three dimensional villainy of the character.
The Pitfall: to have someone try and mimic the original performance. Whoever they pick would have to differ from that characterization of “Hades”. By doing that, the potential actor would make Hades their own, and mount a unique perspective on the troubled villain of the movie. Also, while a good voice actor, please don’t cast James Woods again.
Leaning on the Source Material
Both of the original movies were based on old literary tales.
It’s hard to place exactly where Aladdin occurs because the literary source material is itself controversial. Disney set both of their Aladdin movies in the fictional and vaguely Syrian city of Agrabah. Most of what we know of Aladdin is not from Scheherazade, but from Antoine Galland’s french translation of 1001 Nights in the 18th Century (whom he transcribed from a Syrian storyteller). In that version, Aladdin is actually Chinese. This taps into a tragically Orientalistic retelling of Aladdin. For those who are unfamiliar, orientalism is the practice of augmenting a culture’s exoticism and has its roots in colonial era-xenophobia. Simply put, Western or European writers (in this case, Galland) mystify a culture in order to sell it to European markets and gain from the East meets West confusion by portraying the East as a backwards, mysterious and homogenous culture (aka, the “Orient”). Disney capitalized on this Orientalism by borrowing from Indian architecture (the sultan’s palace is a replication of the Taj Mahal), Middle Eastern culture, and by leaning into exoticism and mystery.
Hercules is, of course, based off of Greco-Roman mythology. The 1997 movie transposed some elements to current day. Thebes became a foil for New York and Danny Devito’s character borrowed more from a “New Yorker” stereotype. He was a sarcastic know-it-all: hardly an ancient Greek stock character. That being said, the actual plot of the film was a pretty good synthesis of the Greek mythology, but with a few modern twists and turns.
The Pitfall: Making it too historical or too modern. The original balanced between both pretty well, which is the reason for its relatability and success. Though it doesn’t have as many historical and socio-political ramifications as Aladdin did, it should nonetheless try to capture Ancient Greece better than a Hollywood blockbuster like Troy.
Those are the potential pitfalls to avoid, I wish Disney and all the filmmakers, cast & crew the best of luck on the Hercules remake.
We find ourselves in the month of Ramadan, so I found this moment opportune to celebrate the work of a Muslim filmmaker: Marjane Satrapi. I decided to rewatch her magnum opus, Persepolis, and was struck yet again by its beauty. First a graphic novel by Satrapi, the story recounts her life growing up in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution. The powerful storytelling shines with poetic animation, an exploration of deeper truths and it highlights the protagonists complex search for identity. All of these give Persepolis an enduring beauty, and make it a film worth coming back to time and again.
THE POETIC ANIMATION
Different aspects of the animation hold meaning and thought behind it. The use of the fantastical puppet-like imagery to depict historical facts borrows from the ancient artistic tradition of Shadow Theater. When we see young Marji’s (pet name for Marjane) uncle recounting the political rise of the Shah (whom we now know was backed by the American and British governments for economic interests) the puppets dance and we see the retelling of history through the eyes of a child’s perception. In other words, Persepolis not only uses the ancient tradition of Shadow Theater to recount historical tales in a sort of “homage to the past” kind-of-way, but also brings us into the childlike interpretation of a younger Marji’s imagination in a masterful way.
There is also a lot of imagery or symbolism superimposed with grave depictions of war and violence. An example of this is when rioting silhouettes turn to complete darkness so as to suggest death rather than blatantly show us. In a similarly nuanced scene, one of Marji’s friends narrowly misses the neighboring roof he tries to jump to and falls to his death after being chased by armed soldiers. Instead of showing the fall, the moon behind the building becomes the central focus, with the subtle downwards look of the soldiers as the only scenic indication of his death.
One aspect I haven’t yet addressed is the poetic use of black and white animation. Its power stems from the double meaning it represents. On the one hand the usage of black and white is a clever tool to dissociate from the present day storyline (which is in color). On the other hand, it echoes the ever present moralistic duality and the strict dichotomy between right and wrong that plagues a post-Revolution era Iran. This is clear when a zealot man chastises Marji’s mom for having hair poking out of her veil. Though in his eyes he sees her blasphemy as a sign that he has the moral high ground, he then disrespects her, calling her insulting expletives. This Manichean approach is fundamentally flawed, as few things in life fit into either right or wrong, which makes room for unjustified hypocritical moralism. On a similar note, Marjane later speaks out against men’s absence of vestimentary restrictions in the context of sexual liberation in women. “Don’t you think men wearing tight pants won’t turn us on?” she asks a board of teachers and administrators who are enforcing an even more strict sartorial policy on the women. Hypocrisy is an injustice Marji deals with continually.
THE DEEPER TRUTHS
When Marji moves to Europe for her safety at the behest of her parents, she is greeted with a whole new set of circumstances. The friends she makes at first seem like liberated free thinkers who share a similar communist and anarchist ideology to her. They show Marji the philosophy of “Nonchalance” and the alternative punk subcultures of Vienna, and express great interest in Marji’s story and how she survived a bloody revolution. They seem woke, progressive, and yet, in an ironic twist of fate, when discussing Christmas plans, they complain about having to travel to Brazil or other such fancy destinations. They relate their struggles to her as if they were of equal magnitude. Though they talk a big game, the hypocrisy of youth stands out and their oxymoronic and convenient proletarianism belies their true, privileged and sheltered nature.
Upon her first major love, Marji unconsciously puts on rose-colored glasses. Harp music plays in the background, we see lovely scenes of nature, walks in the park, innocent flirtation and idealizing, until that is, she finds him in bed with someone else. Post break-up, her memories start to comically change, recalling instead the not-so-pretty reality of her first boyfriend. He takes on a more cowardly personality, suddenly has acne and an endless supply of mucus and hides behind Marji during difficult situations. The deeper truth shown here is that first love is often romanticized. But the realization of her relationship’s beatification is done in a humorous fashion.
Another subtle theme Persepolis puts forth is the coupling of humor in the face of adversity. Marji buys a misspelled jacket that says “Punk is not Ded” at a time when items from the West are banned and cheekily covering her tracks when she gets called out for it. Her psychologist makes doodles instead of listening to her problems. “Eye of the Tiger” plays as Marji battles depression. In lieu of the usual montage that shows the progression of physical strength, it shows her getting her life back together (showering, waxing her legs, singing the song off key, going back to school etc…) and that ties into another big aspect of the film, the search for her identity.
THE SEARCH FOR IDENTITY
At a young age, Marji believed she was destined to be a prophet. She even had conversations with God, which changed into conversations with God and Karl Marx later in her life. That perhaps bled into her relatable struggle of not fitting in and her conflicted and complex relationship with religion. For Marji not fitting in is expressed through how she feels closely tied to the West while in Iran, but misses it when she finds herself in Europe. She doesn’t quite feel at home in either; an outsider in Austria, and coming back to an Iran that’s unrecognizable to her. In terms of religious expression, she is at odds with the switch to a fundamentalist regime that believes piety is the only way. This is echoed in her atttitude, while in Europe, at being housed by nuns who also have strict ideas that Marji opposes, which has to do with her contempt of authority. This contempt melts away with the authority of family figures. Marji bases a lot of her decision-making on the values of integrity and honor instilled by her grandmother who is a sweet, caring and wise figure in her life. Marji carries with her, all throughout, this grace and resilient mentality that she inherited. It is fitting that the movie ends with the jasmine petals falling down, the same ones that were used daily by her grandmother. A touching end to a beautiful movie. Satrapi, no need to worry, you made your grandmother proud.
A Note On Diversity
Positive Persian representation is often overlooked in cinema, usually veering to the harmful . The director is a woman and this is a female driven story. It highlights women’s issues around the world and the dangers that can come with feminism and sexual liberation. It shows activism within political instability and much more. Persepolis treats issues of identity, religion, double standards regarding gender, and culture shock with great subtlety, impact and beauty.
Could you use some lighthearted romance in your life? Then you are in the right place! Here are some films that’ll make you fall in love with love, again .
Much like the Comedies From Around the World list, below is a selection of diverse romantic comedies from different countries. I’ve tried to pick iconic movies that give an introductory taste of each country’s culture, sense of humor and outlook on love. This is only just a beginning.
Let’s start this international romantic comedy festival (straight from your home)!
The Break Up Man (2013)
(Original title: Schlussmacher)
So-called “relationship expert” Paul professionally breaks up couples and thinks he knows-it-all when it comes to love, until he gets dumped. He befriends a client (a “breakup-ee”) who gives him a new lease on life and outlook on romantic love. Though Germany is not a country typically associated with romance or comedy, it is a disservice (and quite reductive) to think in those terms, as this little gem proves.
Two titans of Italian cinema, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, team up with legendary neorealist director, Vittorio De Sica, for this three-in-one comedy about romance. Cut into three short stories, with each showing couples in different parts of Italy. It also happens to have won the Academy Award for best Foreign Language Film in 1964.
Before its famous remake with J.Lo and Richard Gere; Shall we Dance? was first a Japanese film about a mild mannered salary man who learns how to ballroom dance and, by extension, learns how to lead to more fulfilling life. Wonderfully acted with a lot of funny and endearing moments watching men learn the values of dance and its steps. A cute and entertaining movie!
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani focuses on the wealth of discoveries life can bring. Naina and Bunny meet at two different part of their lives and decide just how they want to define their love, their futures and which dreams to fulfill. This is a joyous film, with colorful sequences depicting the Indian holiday of Holi and it contains fun dance numbers, too!
After being nagged by her family for not having a husband despite being the oldest sister at the ripe old age of 34 (*gasp*) Isoken’s societal pressures to get married start to fade away as two potential suitors come into her life. The pressure, now, is to choose: which one will she marry? A light-hearted Nollywood (Nigerian Hollywood) romantic comedy with colorful cinematography, costume design and female-driven humor.
Romantics Anonymous is a charming film that gently celebrates the often overlooked people in romantic comedies: the painfully shy. Set in a cutesy and colorful chocolate factory, Jean René and Angélique navigate their way through their emotions and their budding office romance. This movie was written and directed by someone who’s been part of the real-life Emotions Anonymous, so it offers a more sincere and compassionate look at dating while dealing with a fear of intimacy.
The ultimate romantic comedy set-up: two people who are supposed to be together but always miss each other. Think Serendipity but with heartbroken, artistic and neurotic leads. Sidewalls is grounded in reality with wistful, at times whimsical, tonal approach. The beautiful Buenos Aires cityscapes are just a bonus!
Whatever preconceived notions you have of Hollywood romantic comedies can be left at the door for Lars and The Real Girl. This offbeat and heartwarming story follows socially inept Lars, as he decides to dip his toe into the overwhelming world of dating by starting a relationship with “real girl” (doll) Bianca. Ryan Gosling delivers a sweet and endearing performance and this indie darling demonstrates an empathetic, original and thoughtful look at love.
Could you use some hearty laughs? Then you are in the right place!
Below is a selection of some of my favorite comedies from different countries. I’ve tried to pick iconic movies that give an introductory taste of each country’s culture and sense of humor, but this is only just a beginning.
Let’s start this international laughs festival (straight from your home)!
OSS 117: Cairo, Next of Spies (2006)
(Original Title — OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions)
From the team that brought you The Artist, this spy parody ripe with visual gags mocks James Bond’s swagger by bringing you his delightfully obtuse and arrogant French counterpart: Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath. The story takes place in Paris and in Cairo, where our hero spy is sent as an expert in the Arabic world, though he knows little to nothing about Egypt nor does he realize the perilous adventures he’s about to embark on.
Toni Servillo (La Grande Belleza) plays twin brothers Enrico and Giovanni who are diametrically opposed in profession, status and personality. However, their identical looks come in handy when Enrico (the governor) goes missing and his right hand man enlists twin brother Giovanni (the writer) to replace him and mishaps ensue. This switcheroo political farce harkens back to the premise of Dave, but with better tailored suits. This satire is for people who like their comedy with a political message.
Labeled a “ramen western”, a satirical pun on the “spaghetti westerns” made famous by Clint Eastwood; this original, creative and offbeat comedy breaks the fourth wall, playfully toys with American cinematic stereotypes and celebrates Japanese culture’s affection for food and for sex — sometimes in the same scene. While the protagonists are on a search for the perfect ramen recipe, Tampopo has all the necessary ingredients for a timeless comedy.
Based on the real-life Chinese folk hero, Wong Fei-Hung, Drunken Master stars a young Jackie Chan, bursting on the scene. No one does action comedy quite like Jackie Chan. This early example shows off the ballet-like precision of his expertly choreographed kung fu sequences as well as his elastically expressive face. The camp physical comedy set to a beautifully rural surrounding and late 19th century garb make for a slapstick folktale to remember!
This action packed comedy of errors is a little more off-the-wall, racy and sexually explicit than you might expect from a Bollywood comedy — and it’s excellent fun. Praised for shaking up India’s film industry standards, this physical comedy offers up raunchy laughs and an accurate representation of India’s millenials. Anecdote: The movie’s main musical theme is a play on words, which if pronounced quickly, is a swear word in Hindi. (The wordplay goes deep in this one.)
This cult classic pairs up long time collaborators Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement in their trademark understated comedy style. What We Do in the Shadows is an enchanting mockumentary with quasi historical characters who touch upon tropes from the horror film genre, and kindly poke fun at them. Good for people who like a bit of horror (or spoooookiness) in their comedy.
This crazy comedy is a masterful take on the dark comedy genre. It’s broken into several different stories that function as one-act tales of different situations, all heightened to a “wild”, unpredictably wicked and uproarious climax. This romp is a rollercoaster of a good time and delivers dry, outlandish humor that you’ll be sure to remember forever.
If you have a bleak sense of humor, this one’s for you. True to Sweden’s existentialist nature, this film follows Ove, a nihilist grumpy old man who wants to be left alone mourning his wife’s death. He and his neighbor unexpectedly strike up a friendship that reminds him of the warmth in the world, and that he still has a lot to live for. Some touching moments and some excellent dark humor make for a sweet, ironic and deeply human film that’ll warm your heart one minute, make you contemplate death the next and make you laugh all throughout. A wonderful film!
This cheeky story follows a down-on-his-luck man whose humdrum daily life changes forever when he finds himself in an unbelievable situation: he suddenly has 533 kids. Inspired by a true story, this interesting exploration of a man who navigates a sudden onslaught of fatherhood to hundreds sees him deal with the fruits of his sperm-donating past and deal with love and self-acceptance. A gentle French-Canadian comedy for an entertaining night-in.
A timeless classic! For many Americans, this iconic 1980s film was the first exposure to the drawl, banter and the attitude of the citizens from the “land down under”. Mick Dundee was the prototype Australian in their eyes and embodied the lost insouciant masculinity of old Hollywood “cool dudes” like Paul Newman. Though it might be less well-known by today’s generation, Crocodile Dundee was a smash hit when it came out and instant cultural phenomenon. This adventure comedy has it all: animals, nature, romance, knives, crocs, a real life jungle and a concrete jungle. Enjoy!
This allegorical tale follows Xi, a Sān bush farmer, who along with the rest of his tribe, leads a perfectly peaceful and pleasant life before a Coke bottle falls from the sky. Initially thought to be a present from the Gods, it instead only causes conflict, so Xi is tasked with disposing of it by sending it off the edge of the Earth. On his pilgrimage, he finds an unfamiliar and ill-adjusted world for which “civilized” is a big misnomer. This screwball comedy offers slapstick-y gimmicks, but also exhibits subtle reflections on human nature.
(Original Title — Иван Васильевич меняет профессию)
Also known as Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future, this film is based on the play Ivan Vasilievich by Mikhail Bulgakov. This sci-fi comedy was a Soviet Union classic dealing with situational absurdities from having Ivan the Terrible switch places with an Ivan from the 1970s. This time-travel tale provides a humorous and thoughtful look into the anachronistic differences between two distant eras, as well as pokes fun at Ivan the Terrible, who still acts like a tsar, even though he’s lost the hierarchal status. A thoughtful time-traveling comedy for the ages!
Self Made is a 4 part mini series on Netflix that depicts the rise of early 20th century’s hair care business mogul, Madam CJ Walker. It is based off of the book “On Her Own Ground” (now renamed “Self Made”), a biography authored by none other than the great great granddaughter of Madam CJ Walker, A’Lelia Bundles.
Since it’s a biopic and might possibly be some viewers’ first introduction to the story of Madam CJ Walker, it’s important to note what is fact and what is fiction so that her legacy remains intact.
NB. In the article, I will refer to our heroine by any one of her names: Sarah Breedlove, Mrs. Walker and of course, Madam CJ Walker.
So, how historically accurate was the mini-series?
Let’s dive in.
FACT: Sarah Breedlove had a self made fortune.
She built an empire with hair care products. She changed her name when she married CJ Walker, and did not inherit her money nor did she marry into it.
FICTION: She was a millionaire.
According to A’Lelia Bundles, Madam CJ Walker died with a fortune of 600 thousand USD. Even though that sum accounts to 9 million dollars in today’s money (when adjusted with inflation) our protagonist never amassed 1 million in her lifetime.
“Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them” — Madam CJ Walker
FACT: She had a business rivalry with another female hair care entrepreneur.
Madam CJ Walker first worked under the tutelage of another hair care businesswoman, Annie Turnbo Malone. After working as her sales rep, Madam CJ Walker started her own line of products which were eerily similar to Annie Malone’s products, down to the name: Wonderful Hair Grower.
FICTION: Addie Munroe.
Addie Munroe is supposed to serve as Annie Turnbo Malone’s fictional counterpart in the mini series. The competition between her and Madam Walker is the main conflict and Addie comes out as the clear villain. But Annie Malone never saw Madam CJ Walker as her arch nemesis to the extent that the Netflix series would have you believe.
There is also a storyline that pits Sarah and Addie against each other because the fictional “Addie” symbolizes the coveted light skinned standard of black which makes our protagonist self loathe the darkness of her own skin. In real life, it seems like the rivalry was strictly business. Also, testimonials recount Annie as being the first millionaire, though that is disputed because accounts of her money is less well documented than that of Madam Walker’s.
FACT: Lelia (Sarah’s daughter) lived and worked in Harlem and supported queer rights and was a patron of the arts.
She owned the Dark Tower hair salon in Harlem and had many LGBTQ customers and friends. She helped shape the Harlem Renaissance and eventually took over the company after her mom’s death.
FICTION: Lelia‘s lesbian relationship.
It’s unclear why this ever came about in Self Made. By all accounts, her depicted sexuality was a total fabrication for the series, possibly to add a layer to the character or add dramatic tension between her and her mother. It’s doubtful that even if her homosexuality was an open secret amongst family, that they would choose this platform to out her.
FACT: Sarah Breedlove married an ad-man named CJ Walker.
This is true, and he did contribute to advertising for the family business. They divorced as in the series and she kept her name. He tried to start another beauty business with his second wife and failed.
FICTION: He was not her second husband nor did they move from St. Louis to Pittsburgh together.
They met in Denver (which was completely omitted from the series) and he was Sarah Breedlove’s third husband. She also did not draw out their divorce for years like in Self Made.
FACT: Madam CJ Walker had a trusted attorney called Ransom.
He took care of the company and became CEO once Lelia died.
FICTION: Cousin “Sweetness”.
In the series, Ransom has a cousin tied to organized crime who eventually gets lynched for defending Ransom’s son. Though it made for powerful content, the character that Ransom worries over never existed in real life.
FACT: She met Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois
Madam Walker made the biggest donation to the NAACP at the time in 1919. It was for $5000 which translates into $77000 in today’s money. That was one of her many philanthropic ventures.
FICTION: Booker T. Washington endorsing Addie Munroe
In Self Made, Booker T. Washington endorses the Annie Malone substitute Addie Munroe. In reality, he did not believe in beauty products, saw them as vain and would never promote a beauty business, though it does fuel the rivalry in the series.
Sothere we go. It seems Self Made got its own beauty treatment in the shape of a Hollywood revision that glossed over accurate history in favor of a more dramatized storyline.
The fictionalization did not seem to make for a better story. Even in the realm of fantasy, the dream sequences in each episode were a bit gratuitous. Part 1 shows a boxing match. Part 2 shows a musical. Part 3 shows the “Walker Girl” aka the light skinned standard of beauty haunting her. Part 4 shows flashbacks to her parents. These dream sequences, along with the modern soundtrack, back-dropped to an era-appropriate setting and costume design, seem a little out of place.
Although the intent was probably to introduce the Madam CJ Walker story to a new audience; by omitting certain key elements of the story, Self Made has constructed a skewed vision of the Madam CJ Walker story.
Needless to say, Self Made rates shows positive depictions of African American women (and men) as successful entrepreneurs, lawyers, sales agents and more at a time when the generation before them were enslaved.
Even though it was fictional, it depicts Lelia as a lesbian and treats the subject delicately.
A truly inspirational story of a self made woman, played beautifully and with heart by the amazing Octavia Spencer. - ⭐⭐⭐