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Articles > Movies > Mike Derderian's film reviews in Amman's The Star

Mike Derderian is a Jordanian Armenian movie columnist and journalist at "The Star" English weekly of Amman. He worked in this magazine for six years (2003-2009), during which he signed many film reviews and reports on diverse topics.

Below is a collection of his film reviews as appeared in "The Star" (total 17 reviews):

Cinerama : WALL-E

By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 20 October 2008

In a report published a few days ago renowned scientist Steven Hawkins suggested that humans should flee to outer space so as to get away from what he predicted will become a war-torn and ecologically defunct Earth. He probably came up with the idea after watching Andrew Stanton’s 2008 WALL-E, in which humans escaped an earth that gradually turned into a global junkyard.

The bleak future in this 98-minute movie reflects the concerns of its director, who co-wrote the story with Pete Docter. Visually stunning WALL-E is the story of a lonely robot that falls in love. Processed rubbish and solid waste that are mistaken for skyscrapers are piled up by WALL-E whose name is an acronym that stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth-class. His job is to compress trash into square cubes. He is the last one of his kind—robots that were assigned to clean up Earth, part of a contingency plan after the departure of humans to space aboard a spaceship called AXIOM until things get back to normal.

The little robot, whose exterior anatomy resembles that of Johnny 5 from the 1985 Short Circuit movies, and who is the proud owner of a pet cockroach, spends his time working, collecting human made products and watching his favorite musical the 1969 Hello, Dolly!

WALL-E is living proof that you don’t need words to communicate with others. After the passing of 700 years since humans left Earth, this little robot develops human emotions like love as evident from the hand holding gesture that he picks up from a worn down tape of the musical and that he tries to emulate upon encountering a beautiful stranger…EVE.

EVE whose name stands for Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator is sent back to our planet on a mission to retrieve a live plant specimen that will reveal how much of Earth’s surface and its natural components are restored.

Even though WALL-E and EVE are worlds apart, technologically speaking, the two mechanical oddities hit it off and start to fall for each other. Substituting dialogue with mechanical and electronic bleeps along with simple facial gestures was a brilliant idea on part of Stanton, if not risky. How many can actually tolerate an animated movie with human dialogue that is heard after the passing of 40 minutes?

The character design of WALL-E and Eve, modern opposite outdated, cleverly refers to the passing of time. Mac and computer enthusiasts all over the world will thrill on the many references to the ancestors of future robotics that are more and more becoming a reality.

Sound engineer of this movie, Ben Burtt, and Elissa Knight voiced the love struck robots. John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Jeff Garlin and Sigourney Weaver, who voices the ship’s computer, voice the human characters heard in this audio-visual cinematic masterpiece.

The nuts and bolts of WALL-E are so tight and solid that you cannot but applaud the efforts of its director, animators, storyboard artists, sound technicians and editor, Stephen Schaffer, along with Thomas Newton, who composed its original music.

Time will prove the value of WALL-E in terms of animation, storytelling and ecological message that warns us of the consequences of our irresponsible actions towards our Earth and of course ourselves.

Must-see-scenes: WALL-E as he tries to woo EVE by any means possible to the sound of Luis Armstrong singing La Vie en Rose and the scene in which WALL-E chases after EVE who is taken to AXIOM’s captain (Garlin) for debriefing.


By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 27 October 2008

As the thunderous music of Masaru Sato plays in the melancholic background of a near deserted village, a nameless samurai (Toshiro Mifune) confidently approaches a gang of thugs, who were bringing havoc to the town they’ve occupied with another rival gang.

“You’re all tough, then?” the nameless samurai with a laid back and indifferent tone announces to the agitated group of men. One man jumps and says, “What? Kill me if you can!”

Like a wolf standing amidst foxes the nameless samurai answers with a grin, “It’ll hurt.”

Can this scene from Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 Yojimbo get any better? Actually it does, especially as the nameless samurai addresses the village’s cooper, as he walks away from the astonished gang members, after killing two of their men and cutting the arm of the other, “Two coffins...No, maybe three.

The dark undertones of this 1961 classic is lightened by its comical approach to a striking story about a double dealing samurai who is trying to make an easy profit off the two conflicting clans in this forsaken village that has fallen prey to corruption, greed and haphazard death.

The nameless samurai (Toshiro Mifune) is later on referred to by Conji (Eijirô Tono), the owner of a decrepit pub, as Yojimbo, which is Japanese for bodyguard. Realizing his strength of character and mastery of the katana the two gangs try to win over the nameless samurai, who is willing to work for the highest bidder.

One gang is run by Seibei (Seizaburo Kawazu), the owner of a brothel and the second is run by Ushitora (Kyu Sazanka), who is aided by his two villainous brothers, the gun wielding Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai) and the idiot Inokichi (Daisuke Kato).

The premise of Yojimbo, which was inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest, was adapted twice for cinema: First in Sergio Leone’s 1964 A Fistful of Dollars and then in Walter Hill’s 1996 Last Man Standing.

Sato’s original music is the zest that gives life to the actor’s comical portrayals in this hilarious movie about deceit and dishonesty. Kurosawa brilliantly utilizes ordinary camera angles, the acting skills of his cast, ordinary edits that are no more than fades and wipes and a distinct sound to create a memorable movie with dark undertones that are revealed to us through somewhat graphic death, and at times in bloodless scenes.

In one scene blood spills out of a man’s neck like a fountain and in another there is nothing but clean death delivered through the nameless samurai’s swift katana blows. It seems that Kurosawa realized that too much blood would send the audience running out of the theater.

Mifune’s samurai is the epitome of cool in spite of his uncouth samurai mannerism, apathetic views on good and evil and his fiery tone voice that he unleashes whenever his human and kind side is about to be exposed.

The nameless samurai’s confrontations with the villains are the highlights of this movie as they present us with case studies about cowardice, procrastination, treachery and bravery like the elements found in a play by William Shakespeare whose writings had a great influence on Kurosawa.

As the web of deceit expands and the nameless samurai is caught in his lies he undergoes an involuntary process of catharsis that leads to the grand finale in which he becomes a tool of deliverance rather than destruction.

Must-see-scenes: The nameless samurai’s negotiations with the heads of the warring gangs, who are no more than bumbling fools; the fight scenes involving the nameless samurai; and the final dialogue between him and the treacherous Unosuke.

Hollywood Homicide

By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 03 November 2008

Anyone bored from the double team crime movies will find Ron Shelton’s Hollywood Homicide, which is the antithesis of the Lethal Weapon movies but in a very positive way, an entertaining movie. It is clownishly funny, which is probably an intentional effort on part of Shelton and his cast.

Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnet are the odd couple, Sergeant Joe Gavilan and Detective K.C. Calden, in this typical screwball crime/comedy thriller, which is co-penned by Shelton and Robert Souza, a former detective turned scriptwriter and movie consultant.

Hollywood Homicide also stars Bruce Greenwood, Keith David, Lolita Davidovich, Isaiah Washington, Dwight Yoakam and Lena Olin, who plays the role of Ruby, a woman with psychic abilities.

There are also memorable cameos in this 116-minute movie by singing and acting stars like Gladys Knight, Lou Diamond Phillips, Robert Wagner, Smokey Robinson, André Benjamin, Eric Idle and Martin Landau.

After a shoot out at a local hip-hop club that leaves the members of a rap group dead, Gavilan and Calden are called to investigate. They find themselves trailing shady label owner and producer Antoine Sartain (Washington), who is aided by a former cop Leroy Wasley (Yokam).

Hollywood Homicide is a character driven movie—compliments of Ford and Hartnet—which will make it hard for fans of the plot-with-a-twist movies to swallow.

Ford’s portrayal of Gavilan is a mesh of characters he played in comedies like Working Girl (1988), Sabrina (1995) and Six Days Seven Nights (1998).

Hartnet’s performance is no different than anything he played on screen before, whether in Wicker Park (2004) or Lucky Number Slevin (2006). The young actor has the making of Hollywood but lacks the diversity that makes us see him in different light—Hartnet is Hartnet, whether he is playing a lovelorn man, a man out for revenge or a conflicted man.

Despite their obvious differences they both are uncertain about the direction of their lives and career choices and this is what makes them so genuine and so close in essence.

With such a line up and hilarious performance on part of the leads, why was it a box office flop? Well, who cares as long as it makes you laugh! Those of you who work two and even three jobs to make ends meet will probably identify with the leads; Gavilan moonlights as a real estate agent while Calden works as a yoga instructor and is a wannabe actor.

Amidst all the chaos—murdered hip hop artists, failed real estate deals, chases, soul searching and yoga classes—Gavilan and Calden are being hounded by Internal Affairs Lieutenant Bennie Macko (Greenwood), who is intent on destroying their careers.

Hollywood Homicide is a crazy romp that probably includes one of the longest chase scenes involving vehicles, peddle boats, bicycles and metros. This movie is a 100 percent comedy (50 percent goes to slapstick) and it would be a drawback to take its somewhat plausible premise too seriously.

The mismatched teaming of Gavilan, a veteran cop who is disenchanted with the job and Calden, a young man who doesn’t know if he is a cop, a yoga instructor or the next Marlon Brando (the end credits shows us that he is definitely not the latter) is what makes this movie worth watching.

Must-see-scenes: Cavilan and Calden are interrogated by Internal Affairs; Calden’s taking over a family car with a mother and her two children to chase after Wasley; and Gavilan’s tryst with Ruby.

Le Concile de Pierre

By Mike Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 10 November 2008

In Mongolian Tsvenson mythology every man and woman has an animalistic representation they can bring into existence through special initiation rituals performed by an ancient sorcerer—such individuals in turn become sorcerers but of limited powers. Every couple of hundred years a boy with a unique circular mark on his upper chest is born. This boy is called the observer and if one of those sorcerers, who belong to the Stone Council, manages to kill him on a certain date they become immortal.

By the way don’t mistake the above excerpt with something you would read on Wikipedia about Mongolian culture as it is as close to an explanation one gets after watching Guillaume Nicloux’s 2006 Le Concile de Pierre (the Stone Council), which is a subtle paranormal thriller starring Monica Bellucci.

Based on a novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé Le Concile de Pierre is the story of a single woman, Laura Siprien, (Bellucci with the cutest boy-cut ever), who adopts a child Liu-San (Nicolas Thau), to discover that he is a child of supernatural abilities, who in the Mongolian Tsvenson mythology is the observer.

Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography is the highlight of this movie that manages to keep viewers on the edge of their seats as they wait for the next scene that will startle them out of their wits.

Suschitzky worked as a cinematographer for movies like Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Naked Lunch (1991), The Public Eye (1992), The Vanishing (1993), eXistenZ (1999), Red Planet (2000) in addition to A History of Violence (2005), which would explain the high quality of cinematography in this movie.

The tracking shots, that follow Siprien through the corners of her home, hospital rooms and abandoned rooms before a sound edit followed by an unexpected visual presence explodes through the speakers of your television set, create a haunting feeling that raises one’s pulse and breathing in turn alarmingly—it is either that or I am unashamedly the cowardly lion and did not know it until watching this movie.

Niclouux manages to turn the familiar corners of one’s home—in this case Siprien’s home—into dark corners from which animalistic apparitions spring out of nowhere at us. Is she going mad or are these happening as real as her adopted son, whom she affectionately looks after as if her own? Bellucci plays the insecure Siprien—a fragile woman, who only wants to protect here adopted son and won’t stop at anything to do so.

Despite the expansive long shots that are taken in locations in France and Mongolia there is a stifling feeling to the enclosure surrounding the characters especially Bellucci’s character, who is trapped in an inexplicable presence—the result of her deep spiritual and emotional connection with her son.

Le Concile de pierre also stars Sami Bouajila, Elsa Zylberstein, Lorenzo Balducci, Nicolas Jouhet, Peter Bonke, Jerzy Rogulski, Bayaset Manjikoff, Tubtchine Bayaertu and Catherine Deneuve as Sybille Weber, a close friend of Siprien.

Little by little Siprien starts to connect the dots as a result of the paranormal situations that she undergoes to find out that the disappearance of her own parents is linked to the birth of her adopted son Liu-San.

The sound and visual editing in this 102-minute is what holds this thriller with solid performances on part of Bellucci and the supporting cast on top of which is Moritz Bleibtreu, who plays the role of Russian embassy attaché Serguei Makov, who ends up helping her and her son.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 24 November 2008

If you are expecting more Lemoore booty shaking dance routines to the tunes of I Like to Move It in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa you’ll be a bit disappointed. Still, that doesn’t mean it is not hilarious and hits the bull in the eye and face for that matter.

Co-directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath, who directed the first installment, this part also stars the voice talents of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Alec Baldwin, Sherri Shepherd, Will I Am and the late Bernic Mac as Zuba, Alex’s father.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is about Alex’s back-story or Alecki’s as we find out in the opening sequence set in Africa. In addition to being introduced to Alex’s father we are introduced to the villain of this sequel, Makunga (Baldwin), a second rate wannabe Alpha lion.

After finding out how Alex got to New York the movie goes back to present time Madagascar, where Melman (a giraffe), Gloria (a hippopotamus), Marty (a zebra) and Alex (a lion) are about to board a plane manned by the band of rogue military-esque penguins.

The four penguins, Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Mason, who will probably have a movie of their on before the third sequel, which is slated for 2011, hits the silver screen, are back and do more than just smile and wave.

Our friends will soon be stranded in Africa, where Alex will be reunited with his parents and find himself facing a tribal challenge that he mistakes for a dance contest concocted by Makunga, who wants to become leader.

Sacha Baron Cohen reprises his role as King Julian, who along with his sidekick Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) goes with the four. You might ask if Mort, the cute little Lemoore voiced by Richter, makes it on board? He somehow does.

Even though Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa borrows elements from movies like Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), Flight of the Phoenix (2004) and yes believe it or not Disney’s Lion King (1994), it doesn’t take itself too serious.

It is plain silly fun with animals socializing and bonding as if they were humans with awkward social situations. Gloria (Pinkett Smith) is looking for a mate and fails to realize that Melman (Schwimmer)—are you ready—has a crush on her.

In another scene Marty (Rock) realizes that in Africa he is no longer a unique Zebra and he is just like the others, which reflects on his friendship with Alex, his best friend, who in turn thinks everything revolves around him—does it get more dramatic? Actually, no, especially when you watch the penguins as they negotiate with a union of monkeys, who want a maternity leave clause in their work contracts even though they are males.

Hanz Zimmer’s serious soundtrack is toned down with tracks that have become a signature of mainstream movie soundtracks like Boston’s More Than A Feeling and Barry Manilow’s Her name is Lola.

This 89-minute movie unlike its prequel which was more like Survivor: The Animal Version or I am a Celebrity Animal Get Me Out of Here is more about familial ties and friendship.

Must-see-scene: The brilliant homage to The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), when Alex mistakes Mort, who is abroad the airplane wing, for a gremlin chewing on the transport’s wiring; Moto Moto’s rise from the water pool to meet Gloria, the old lady from the first movie, who somehow ended up having a larger storyline in this one; and of course any scene involving the Penguins.

Follow that Bird
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 01 December 2008

Ten pigeons perched on a telephone line wire are listening to a raven telling a joke, “…and the cat said...” Before the raven could finish the sentence it sneezed and no sooner it opened its eyes there was no one in sight.

“Hey where did everybody go?” the confused raven said before flying towards the fading sun. No one dared follow that bird fearing it had bird flu, which wasn’t the case with Big Bird, the main protagonist in Sesame Street’s 1986 Follow that Bird.

Everyone and everything living in Sesame Street decide to chase after the missing kind hearted eight feet tall yellow bird, voiced by Caroll Spinney.

Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Martin P. Robinson, Sally Kellerman, Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt, this puppet movie also has live action actors like Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Roscoe Orman and Sonia Manzano. Sandra Bernhard, John Candy, Chevy Chase and Waylon Jennings all have memorable cameos as a waitress, a traffic officer, a newscaster and a truck driver respectively.

Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Grover (who also appears as Super Grover), Oscar, Kermit the Frog, Count, Mr Snuffleupagus, Telly, Gordon (Orman) and Maria (Manzano) in addition to many more will all chase after Big Bird, who ran away from his foster parents’ home.

Let us roll back the tape a little. Big Bird was happily living in Sesame Street until a nosy social worker, Miss Finch (Kellerman), a prejudiced bird-supremacy advocating bird, decides that Big Bird should live with birds instead of humans, animals and Muppets. After much ado about nothing Big Bird is sent to live with the most annoying breed of birds: The Dodo Family, comprising Mommy Dodo, Daddy Dodo, Donnie and Marie, who are probably the most annoying siblings one can have.

From that moment on, Big Bird takes not only his friends but us on a cross-country trip filled with nostalgia and funny moments worth the watch by kids and grownups.

Written by Judy Freudberg and Tony Geiss, the original music of this touching story about love, family and friendship is composed by Lennie Niehaus and Van Dyke Parks.

Follow that Bird has a collection of memorable songs like One Little Star, Grouch Anthem, Ain’t no Road Too Long, Easy Goin’ Day, Upside Down World, All Together Now by Alabama, Working On My Atitude and of course I’m So Blue, which Bird Bird sings in captivity as part of a fanfare show created by the Sleaze Brothers, who capture Big Bird and decide to use him for financial gain.

The essence of this 88-minute family movie is co-existence with others regardless of race, color or religion, which was always the objective of the Sesame Street productions that without the Jim Henson Muppets would be nothing more than an educational television show.

I leave you with a quote by the man behind the Muppet Magic that has enthralled the minds of generations since their coming to life. “I spend a few minutes in meditation and prayer each morning. I find that this really helps me to start the day with a good frame of reference. As part of my prayers, I thank whoever is helping me. I’m sure that somebody or something is. I express gratitude for all my blessings and try to forgive the people that I’m feeling negative toward. I try hard not to judge anyone, and I try to bless everyone who is part of my life, particularly anyone with whom I am having any problems,” Jim Henson, without whom we’d be living in a Muppetless world, said.

FairyTale: A True Story
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 22 December 2008

A lifeless sinewy figure with broken wings was lying amidst the tall grass at the foot of an abandoned forest that miraculously existed at the fringes of 21st century suburbia. Hoards of luminous winged beings soon gathered around it as the setting sun left behind a burning red and orange trail.

“What happened?” Elder Fairy asked the other fairies, who were gazing at their dead female companion. “A human struck Elana mistaking her for an insect.”

Fixing its wooden scepter Elder Fairy proclaimed to all present fairies, “Hear me out and let my voice echo miles and miles away. From this day forth we all in the forest stay. None is to get close to the offspring of Adam or they will be damned with untimely death delivered by the merciless blows of man. Invisible to their dull eyes we shall be for the remainder of our lives.”

Elder Fairy’s proclamation to this day is obeyed or how would you explain the fairy-less days that followed. Ever turned your head in a hurry after sensing with the edge of your eye a black shadow that swiftly flew past your head! Ever wondered what happened to fairies and why they disappeared?

Charles Sturridge’s 1997 FairyTale: A True Story doesn’t answer any of the above questions; it presents us with a rather teasing one: What if fairies did exist?

This 99-minute fantasy stars Elizabeth Earl, Florence Hoath, Paul McGann, Phoebe Nicholls, Bill Nighy, Tim McInnerny, Peter Mullan and Mel Gibson. Peter O’Toole’s turn as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harvey Keitel’s as Harry Houdini is what prompted me to search for more information about this beautiful movie and touching story.

FairyTale: A True Story is inspired by The Cottingley Fairies story, which was brought to life after a series of photographs—five in number, taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two cousins living in Cottingley near Bradford in England—were mentioned in a piece written by Doyle.

Michael Coulter’s exquisite cinematography is accompanied by Zbigniew Preisner’s haunting musical composition that is arranged on the fine line between fantasy and reality especially whenever the fairies appear from amidst the fauna surrounding the Wright’s home and dance to its barely audible notes. The fairies were played by actors whose bodies were superimposed unto the live action scenes through computer-generated images (CGI).

The original photographs that were used in the movie show the two cousins engaged in various activities with fairies—this all happened back in 1917, when the first two photos were taken by Elsie (16-year old) and Frances (10-year old) after using the camera of Elsie’s father, Arthur Wright (McGann).

Sturridge brilliantly blurred out our vision and imagination, which made me wonder if what I was seeing was real or fantasy. Elizabeth Earl and Florence Hoath played the roles of Frances and Elsie with honest fervor that would make a non-believer in fairy tales believe what they are telling their parents, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini and the world.

FairyTale: A True Story is a magical movie that brilliantly reinvasions the events surrounding The Cottingley Fairies photographs and story that bewildered many people at the time—it most certainly charmed me and made me want to believe in the existence of fairies in addition to many things that over the years have become murky and unclear for an individualistic mortal.

“I don’t know which frightens me more: The children lying or their telling the truth,” Elsie’s mother Polly (Nicholls) says. Well, I, my dear reader, know the answer to this question that I am going to leave unanswered so that you search for the real answer on your own, whether you believed in fairies of not.

By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 05 January 2009

A CINEMA television critic asked viewers to leave their brains at the door when watching Taken. I totally disagree. You can maintain your mental powers as Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) beats pimps to a pulp, goes unarmed into a brothel in Paris owned by Albanian mobsters and cleverly dodges the French police in Pierre Morel’s 93-minute you-definitely-messed-with-the-wrong-man movie.

This adrenaline pumped no-bore movie also stars Famke Janssen, Xander Berkelly, Katie Cassidy and Magie Gracie as Kim, Bryan’s kidnapped daughter.

The screenplay, which is inked by Robert Marker Kamen and Luc Besson, is far from brainless. The dialogue is not contrived and when there is a necessity for Neeson’s character to talk more than act he talks.

The violence in Taken is nothing you haven’t seen in The Bourne Identity, A Man Apart and Shooter. Still, it is not gratuitous; it is in fact fulfilling and driven by fatherly love, hate and anger channeled towards white slave traffickers.

The father character that Neeson plays in Taken is no different than that he played in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The fatherly and warm tone is there—compliments of Neeson’s gruff voice—only deeper and with menacing undertones.

Taken is 2009 Death Wish without the Charles Bronson element; taking matters into one’s hands didn’t sound or look any better. Neeson’s character is a high-tech vigilante whose only purpose is to save his daughter. As the finale unravels and the fate of his daughter becomes clearer an overwhelming sense of feel-good vibes engulfs us.

By the way, anyone who was planning to send his teenage kids alone to Europe and saw this movie will have a change of mind. The Paris Tourism board must have flipped upon realizing the bad rep this movie will give their country, then again maybe not.

The slow buildup in the beginning prepares us for the torrent of emotions and action that follows. Neeson’s character turns into a tornado that uproots everything in its path. If he is angry we are angry, if he is out of breath we are out of breath and if he is bashing some baddy on the head we are mentally bashing a baddy on the head.

The 65-year old actor pulls off a demanding role with physical attributes that shows on screen. Bryan is no superman; he is a father driven by love. People forget that this isn’t Neeson’s first role as an action hero. His first time was in Dark Man back in 1990.

Here is a list with movies that you have to see with Neeson in them: Dark Man (of course), Schindler’s List (1993), Rob Roy (1995) Les Misérables (1998), Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999), K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Love Actually (2002), Gangs of New York (2003), Batman Begins (2005), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005).

Taken might be dubbed a brainless action piece by some critics but to this cinema lover it is a brilliant old-school revenge plot driven movie filled with good hand-to-hand combat scenes, good acting and yeah, Liam Neeson.

Must-see-scenes: Holly Valance’s cameo as a superstar singer at the beginning of the movie when, Brian, who is retired, is asked to bodyguard with a group of friends from the secret service and the scene when he walks into the Albanian brothel in Paris all by himself.

The Green Mile
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 12 January 2009

The policeman blew his whistle and the morning sun rose from its deathbed. It lit the streets with a yellow light and color that resembled that of an old man’s gallows. Then people awoke from their slumber, feeling regretful, and with sorrowful faces.

The above paragraph, which I translated from Arabic to English, is a short piece written by Syrian writer Zakariya Tamer, whose words take you by the hand on a journey through a green mile, before turning you over to life’s bitter sarcasm and morbid hallucinations.

I was introduced to Zakariya’s work through a friend, who handed me his faded copy of Zakariya’s The Tigers on the 10th day—a collection of fascinating short stories.

Many of Zakaria’s tired, energetic, depressed and at times hopeful characters resemble some of the characters in Frank Darabont’s 1999 The Green Mile, which is based on a book by Stephen King.

“On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of His true miracles, what am I gonna say? That is was my job? My job?” Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) asks John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan).

“You tell God, the Father, it was a kindness you done. I know you hurtin’ and worryin’, I can feel it on you, but you oughta quit on it now. Because I want it over and done. I do. I’m tired, boss. Tired of bein’ on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. Tired of not ever having me a buddy to be with, or tell me where we’s coming from or going to, or why. Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time. Can you understand?” Coffey replies.

“Yes, John. I think I can,” Edgecomb nods.

The events of The Green Mile take place in a prison ward for prisoners awaiting execution. Why is it called the Green Mile? Well, I’ll let Edgecomb, the chief guard of the Green Mile, answer this one before I continue.

“They usually call death row the Last Mile, but we called ours the Green Mile, because the floor was the color of faded limes,” Edgecomb explains.

This 188-minute movie also stars David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Harry Dean Stanton and Sam Rockwell, as Wild Bill’ Wharton, a very disturbed and mean prisoner.

Edgecomb and his men, Brutus “Brutal” Howell (Morse), Dean Stanton (Pepper), Harry Terwilliger (DeMunn), find themselves baffled and stupefied by the latest death-sentence prisoner to arrive to the Green Mile: A giant African-American man by the name of John Coffey, who is to be executed for presumably murdering two little girls.

Aside from the supernatural elements the morality in The Green Mile is to exercise unconditioned kindness towards others.

Thomas Newman’s heartfelt composition accelerates our heartbeats as the mystery behind Coffey is revealed to Edgecomb and his men and of course to us. What makes The Green Mile worth the watch is its humanitarian yarn that is infused with witty and comical dialogue delivered by a cast, headed by the ever shining-in-any-role Tom Hanks, whose on screen harmony will captivate audiences with its earnestness.

Must-see-scenes: The scenes involving Coffey and Edgecomb, Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter), a mouse-like murderer and his mouse and of course the scenes involving the guards and the colorful band of convicts in The Green Mile especially Wild Bill.

High Noon
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 19 January 2009

SUPPOSE YOU were a US marshal, who just got married to a beautiful young woman and is about to retire and start a new life. Suppose you locked up a psychotic convict a few years ago for murder, and he was supposed to be hanged, but somehow he got pardoned and he is coming to get you. Suppose no one is willing to help you stand up to that man and you are all alone.

If the above description fits you, then you must be Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the angst filled US marshal, in Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 High Noon, a tense and intense allegory.

This non-conformist western also stars Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr., Ian MacDonald, Lee Van Cleef, Katy Jurado and Grace Kelly as Amy Fowler Kane, Will’s bride.

High Noon is a modern everyman’s morality tale in which the protagonist, Kane, is unable to persuade any of his friends to stand up with him against Frank Miller (MacDonald) and the three gunmen, who are awaiting his arrival at noon to Hadleyville’s train station.

Halfway through this 85-minute movie the slow rhythm goes slower, especially as Kane’s features become dimmer and more desperate.

The events take place between 10:35am and 12:15pm giving Kane little time to act. We see him trying to persuade, but to no avail, friends, and townsmen. The first blow to Kane is delivered by his opportunist deputy marshal Harvey Pell (Bridges), who refuses to help him unless he endorses him as the next marshal. Even his Quaker bride Amy, the one closest to his heart, decides to leave him. Will she redeem herself by doing what is right?

“Don’t try to be a hero! You don’t have to be a hero, not for me!” Amy begs Will to leave town with her before the arrival of Miller. In another scene Will, with a weary yet confident voice, tells her, “I’ve got to, that’s the whole thing.”

The role of Will Kane won Gary Cooper, 51years at the time, an Oscar for Best Actor in a leading role. High Noon also won an Oscar for Best Song, Scoring and Editing. Zinnemann’s black & white moie is the first movie that relied on the real-time-in-film style of filmmaking.

The High Noon ballad (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling), written by Dimitri Tiomkin, composed by Ned Washington and sung by Tex Ritter, became a motif reminding us of Kane’s inner struggle between his duty to his wife and his life and his obligation towards the cowardly town residents.

The social and political undertones of this cinematic allegory become clearer when one researches the era it was made in. Back in the 50s, the Hollywood community failed to stand up to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAAC), which investigated writers, actors and directors—an act that led to the blacklisting of hundreds, and High Noon was an evident response to that period.

Based on a short story, The Tin Star, by John W. Cunningham and adapted by Carl Foreman, the message in High Noon is that a person has to have the courage to stand up for himself, even if he is to end up all alone, like Kane. It is an outcry against faltering and procrastination, and if today’s world was a marshal then it has failed miserably in doing what is right.

High Noon’s finale is quite inspiring; Kane delivers a potent message to those who fail to do anything about anything—you see…it takes more than a tin star to make a man a man.

Dante 01
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 26 January 2009

Deep space, at the edge of the galaxy. The future. A new prisoner arrives at top security prison ship and psychiatric research unit Dante 01. Sole survivor of an encounter with an alien force beyond imagining, Saint Georges is a man possessed by inner demons, caught up in the battle to control the monstrous power within him. It’s a power that will infect the other highly dangerous occupants of Dante 01, jailors and prisoners alike, unleashing a violent rebellion that turns this terrifying, labyrinthine world upside down. In the otherworldly hell of the ship’s depths, through danger and redemption, each must journey to his very limit... each must confront his own Dragon.

The above paragraph, written on the back of the DVD case of Marc Caro’s 2008 Dante 01, is quite misleading as it promises us a storyline that it doesn’t deliver, and the copywriter, who wrote it should have watched Caro’s finished cut.

On the visual level Dante 01 is a masterpiece but on a different level, the story, it goes nowhere and hangs in zero gravity, like the crucifix-shaped psychiatric research space station Dante 01, where its protagonists and antagonists are locked up.

This 82-minute movie stars Linh Dan Pham, Simona Maicanescu, Dominique Pinon, Bruno Lochet, François Levantal, Gérald Laroche, François Hadji-Lazaro, Yann Collette, Lotfi Yahya Jedidi and Lambert Wilson, as Saint Georges, the mysterious new prisoner mentioned in the opening paragraph.

Maicanescu, who plays the role of the station’s head psychiatrist, Persephone, is also the narrator. Her narration, which borrows lines from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy and the story of Saint George, is beguiling and her tone draws us to the plot that eventually falters under the weight of time.

Had Caro more time to write a more cohesive script and a more logical finale Dante 01 would have been a masterpiece as its atmospheric visuals remind us of classics like Solaris, Blade Runner, Alien and The Matrix. Caro is renowned for co-directing cult-classics like Delicatessen (1991) and The City of Lost Children (1995) with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed Alien: Resurrection that Caro helped in storyboarding.

The superb acting of its cast is hindered by the thin storyline and the climax that sadly dwindles to a thinner solution. Naming the protagonists of one’s story after mythological, religious and literary figures Moloch, Perséphone, Charon, Bouddha, César, Lazare, Attila and Rasputin doesn’t mean your story is of value. A little imaginative on the concept yes, but no value in the premise and this is what plagues Dante 01—it had sci-fi potential.

No matter how many times you watch it, you won’t be able to decipher Caro’s subliminal message. It is as if he runs out of time, and isn’t able to finish his story without resorting to the Deus ex machina technique, that filmmakers often resort to when they find themselves unable to find a suitable and justifiable ending, and in this movie Saint George was the Deus ex machina.

What is Deus ex machina? It is a dramatic and literary device that renders an unsolvable plot solvable by an unexpected event brought forth by incomprehensible forces.

The finale is a space metaphor for the actual crucifixion of Jesus Christ. From the moment Saint George is delivered to Dante 01 he is dubbed by one of the inmates as the savior with no reference whatsoever to how he attained his powers—we are told that he was found covered in blood in an abandoned spaceship, but no more.

Hellboy I
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 02 February 2009

He’s red, he’s got horns, he’s charming and he likes cats. No he is not the devil he’s Hellboy, one of the best comic book heroes ever to grace the silver screen in the past few years in two movies Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), both directed by Guillermo Del Toro.

Hellboy was created by American comic artist Mike Mignola, who was quoted as saying, “Kids aren’t kids anymore. They’re so exposed to everything. They wouldn’t accept really simplistic superheroes.

The aforementioned quote explains why I am fascinated by Hellboy. He is your average Joe and under his red features an ordinary man and no more is found. He is not a silly Captain American or a squeaky clean Superman; he is just like you and me—and since I am balding, guess he’s more like me.

Hellboy stars John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Jeffrey Tambor, Corey Johnson, Ladislav Beran, Biddy Hodson and Ron Perlman as the amazing and larger-than-life Hellboy.

Hellboy, whose original name is Anung un Rama, was conjured up by a group of Nazi scientists and occultists headed by Rasputin (Roden) during World War II.

The Nazis’ attempt is failed by American troops—without American troops where would we be now—and Hellboy is soon adopted by Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm (Hurt). Hellboy soon joins the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) and is aided by Abe Sapien, an amphibian creature with mind reading abilities and Liz Sherman (Blair), a woman who has the ability to turn into a human torch and is Hellboy’s flame—pun blazingly intended.

There is of course John Myers (Evans), an agent assigned by Tom Manning (Tambor), the head of BPRD, who is not much of a fan of Hellboy. Myers starts falling for Liz and funnily clashes with Hellboy, who constantly taunts him.

Sapien is voiced by David Hyde Pierce and portrayed physically by Doug Jones. Blair’s portrayal of the troubled Liz comes out as vulnerable. What can you say about Hurt? He is brilliant as the aging and affectionate professor, who considers Hellboy his son.

Years later Rasputin resurfaces and tries to force Hellboy with the aid of his minions, Ilsa Haupstein (Hodson) and a ruthless blade wielding assassin Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (Beran), into fulfilling his destiny as The Right Hand of Doom in bringing forth the end of the world.

The set pieces and character designs are impressive. For the evil characters, Del Toro drew inspiration from the character descriptions written by H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos, that are manifested in the designs of an evil lion-like-tentacled-creature called Sammael and Ogdru Jahad, the evil creatures that Rasputin is trying to unleash.

A well-paced narrative and solid performances from the cast especially Ron Perlman, is what makes Hellboy a highly enjoyable movie. Perlman, who portrayed the tender hearted and loved Vincent in Beauty and the Beast (1987), captures the cynicism and immaturity of Hellboy.

In one scene Hellboy holds his stone hand—I forgot to mention that his Right Hand of Doom is made out of dark red stone, and is the key that will unleash Ogdru Jahad—up to a moving car and says, “Red means stop!”

Hellboy is like a comic book. Its colors are rich, lines obvious and characters alive. Del Toro gave this 122-minute action-comedy, and the Hellboy universe, a dose of his astounding imagination that continues unaffected with the sequel.

Must-see-scene: Hellboy’s standoff with Sammael in the subway and when a little boy gives Hellboy, who is tailing Liz and Meyrs, advice about love.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 09 February 2009

Moments before Liz turns into a scorching blue fireball to burn ferocious pint-sized tooth fairies, Hellboy stands in front of the window against her orders. “World here I come,” Hellboy says with a sly smile before smashing through the window and landing on top of a car surrounded by onlookers to the music and lyrics of Travis’ All I Want to Do is Rock.

The above scene is one of my favorite moments in Guirellmo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which is as brilliant as the first. Hellboy’s stunt lands him in trouble with Tom Manning, the new chief of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), after the death of Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm.

Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor and Ron Perlman, as the amazing and larger-than-life Hellboy, return as the BPRD task force. They are soon joined by Agent Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), who is sent to put Hellboy in his place after Manning fails to do so. Krauss’ flamboyant character becomes the comic relief in this sequel.

“It is said that at the dawn of time, man, beast, and all magical beings lived under Aeglin, the Father Tree. But man had been created with a hole in his heart, a hole that no power, riches, or knowledge could fill,” Professor Broom reads out the story of the Golden army as a bedtime story to a boy Hellboy in the movie’s opening sequence.

The opening sequence prepares us to the uprising that is being prepared by Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), the son of King Balor, the one-armed king of Elfland, whom he kills with the help of the giant and iron fisted—literally—Mr Wink (Brian Steele).

So what is the Golden Army? It is an indestructible army, 70 times 70, that was created by Goblins to obliterate man. Prince Nuada seeks the pieces of the Crown of Bethmoora that will allow him to lead them into war against humanity.

By the way MacFarlane is the creator of Family Guy and the talent behind many of its characters voices. Doug Jones surprisingly does a good job voicing Abe—giving him a more fragile and lovelorn personality, especially when he meets the kind twin sister of the prince, Princess Nuala (Emma Walton), who has the finale piece of the crown and is against her brother’s scheme.

The dialogue and “the hole in his heart” line, among many others, reflect the superb penmanship of Del Toro, who co-wrote the script with Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy.

Thanks to Del Toro’s old school vision the cinematic elements in the Hellboy II are well-matched. Again, like its prequel, the pacing in this sequel is natural.

Del Toro proves that minimal monster encounters can be very effective and challenging—the action sequences are restricted to six well-construed scenes involving the main and secondary characters. Elongating a fight sequence often reflects a lack in storytelling, which is not the case with this excellent 120-minute movie.

Still one irritating question that arises is: How come all the fairies and mythical creatures live in the United States of America and to be more specific New York? Surely fairies did exist long before Uncle Sam was ever around!

Must-see-scene: The animated opening sequence about the Golden Army; the visit by Hellboy, Abe and Krauss to the hidden troll market; Hellboy and Abe singing Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You, which becomes the movie’s comical motif; and when the BPRD task force faces the Golden Army.

Ballada o soldate
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 16 February 2009

A set of tired eyes slowly opened their blackened lids. A dark azure sky hung over the bruised head. The soldier could not move for he was bloodied and left for dead.

He was sound asleep but the sound of a chained vehicle cutting through the battlefield awoke him. The young man wasn’t able to feel his body. The screeching sound of a bomb was all what he heard before all went pitch black. Now, he is awake amid bodies strewn everywhere and the sound of faint moans of pain.

“A good soldier I was. Why have my leaders forsaken me!” thought the soldier, as he drew a last breath and bid the world farewell.

Whether the above prologue describes well the essence of Grigori Chukhrai’s 1959 Ballada o soldate (Ballad of A Soldier), or not, I had to write it, as I tried to understand the mentality of Alyosha Skvortsov, a young man, who laid his life for his family and country.

Ballad of A Soldier stars Zhanna Prokhorenko, Antonina Maksimova, Nikolai Kryuchkov, Yevgeni Urbansky, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Vladimir Pokrovsky and Vladimir Ivashov, as Private Alyosha Skvortsov, the admirable and valiant young soldier, who is celebrated in Chukhrai heartfelt black and white ballad.

“This is the road to town. Those who leave our village, and those who later return to their birthplace, walk along this road. She is not waiting for anyone [Alyosha’s mother].

The one she used to wait for, her son Alyosha, did not return from the war. He’s buried far from his birthplace, near a town with a foreign name and strangers bring flowers to his grave. They call him a Russian soldier, a hero and a liberator. But to her he was simply a son, about whom she knew everything, from the day he was born, to the day he left along this road for the front. He was our friend. We will tell his story, a story not everyone knows—not even her, his mother,” the narrator says with a somber note before the camera turns to a cloudy sky upon which the title Ballada o soldate appears.

Alyosha is a young man with a tender heart and the mannerisms of a valiant gentleman. After destroying two German tanks on his own—out of fear as he puts it to the General—his superiors decide to award him a medal. Alyosha on the spot requests a two day leave so that he can see his mother and fix her roof.

Ballad of a Soldier was nominated for an Oscar in 1962 for best writing, story and screenplay by Valentin Ezhov and Chukhrai. It also won a best film BAFTA in 1962 and a best actor nomination for Vladimir Ivashov.

Surprisingly his wish is granted and the young man finds himself on a journey that is filled with colorful people and events. On his way home Alyosha meets with a number of colorful characters like Vasya (Urbansky), a soldier who lost his leg and doesn’t want to return to his young and beautiful wife.

Each character embodies a stage in Alyosha’s trip and opens his eyes to the grim reality surrounding him. He bumps into Shura (Prokhorenko), a beautiful stowaway on the train, who opens his eyes to love but alas life has other plans.

In the 89-minutes, Chukhrai explorers and quite poetically the horrors of war, the pain and anguish it brings to the lives of the people it divides.

Alyosha’s six days are mostly spent on his altruistic nature towards strangers. He is left with a few hours to see his mother—his journey is to end in disappointment and Chukhrai’s finale would have been morbid if the son did not embrace his mother for one last time.

Ballad of a Soldier is a cinematic painting, a masterpiece which invokes the warmest of feelings with its mesmerizing cinematography and engaging dialogue that is inspired by an era when everyone believed the world was nearing its end—it was made 15 years after the end of WWII.

Body of Lies (Part I)
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 23 February 2009

The title of this movie is an understatement; it should rather be “bodies of lies” piled up, not too far different from the photos of piled up Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and tortured by sadist marines and private US contractors at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq in 2003.

Here is a quick rundown of its utterly clichéd storyline:

Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a CIA operative sent to “Amman, Jordan” to hunt down Islamist leader Al Saleem (Alon Aboutboul)—no, not Al Gore! Ferris’ superior is hammy Langley officer Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). With the help of a very fictional and unbelievable Chief of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), Ferris goes after the terrorist cell stationed in Amman.

No sooner had Amman flashed on the black screen the moment Ferris arrived, I saw a city that I haven’t been living in for the past 26 years. Where have all the olive oil trees gone! We all know that the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) is doing a lot of changes, but the changes that we see in Sir Ridley Scott’s 2008 addition to the American propaganda machine, are preposterous.

The so called “Amman” scenes were shot in Ouarzazate and Rabat in Morocco. Hey, did we switch countries after the New Year—cause nobody told this Jordanian! One more thing, the American embassy in Amman certainly looks different. Last time I passed by it in Abdoun there was no stadium behind; it but it was still heavily armed.

Did Scott ever come to Jordan! Mind you if there were any Jordanian efforts involved in making this banal film they should be prosecuted…period!

By the way, the head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate wouldn’t pour coffee to a guest even if it was Leonardo DiCaprio; they have employees to do that and are quite hospitable if you ever had the pleasure of visiting them.

The dialogue is as hackneyed as it gets. Obviously some clever person in the production team realized that Golshifteh Farahani, Aisha, the “Jordanian girl” Ferris meets, looked more Iranian than Jordanian so they decided to throw the following line to be delivered by Ferris himself, “Are you Iranian? Your accent is Iranian?”

The person, who wrote this cinematic debacle and bad PR, David Ignatius (novel) and William Monahan (screenplay) should be banned from penning another script for the rest of their lives.

They shamed their craft. “Jordanian piece of Poontang”! Is this the proper way to refer to our Jordanian girls even if it is said by the most politically incorrect American operative-cum-character in cinema history. We might as well call every American girl we meet an easy score—trailer park-white-trash-redneck-ready for bedding bimbo.

Better yet the people, who storyboarded each and every shameful scene of this cinematic atrocity, Ed Natividad, should have his brushes and markers broken.

Aside from the fanatics, who helped distort our image in the West and vice versa, Scott did a fine job in hiding the magnificence and beauty of our Amman under non-existent piles of cinematic scenes…oops I meant trash.

How can such a visionary director, who gave us Thelma and Louise (1991), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), White Squall (1996), Gladiator (2000), Hannibal (2001), Matchstick Men (2003) and Kingdom of Heaven (2005), stray from reality!

I am ashamed to admit that my number one movie is Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner. I think someone should tell Mr Scott that he won’t walk away scot-free especially after this infamy.

If God permits and I see Crowe, DiCaprio or Scott strolling the streets of Amman, or are here in Jordan as part of any cinematic press junket, I might not be satisfied with only throwing my shoes at them.

The artistic merits of this film are very minimal as is the accuracy of the research put into creating its storyline, architectural or geographical settings. This movie is so bad that you have to see it to believe it.

Body of Lies (Part II)
By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 02 March 2009

“I and the public know what all school children learn: Those to whom evil is done do evil in return,” is a quote by W. H. Auden which appears at the beginning of the Ridley Scott’s 128-minutes Body of Lies.

When you blow up someone’s house, kill his children and take his land away, he will certainly avenge himself—it is called resistance. No one dubbed the French resistance terrorists… except for the Nazis.

My first question is: How did a movie that refers to our Hashemite Monarchy as “Towel Head Monarchy” get screened in Amman? According to the manager of a cinema in Amman it got edited and the edited version is available at the Audio Visual Commission (AVC)!

If you think the above line is offensive, to us Jordanians, wait until you have literally seen the entire movie. Body of Lies is a message of hate mailed to Jordanians by a careless director, who didn’t bother to visit our country for research.

Hollywood is renowned for discarding facts for fiction and any avid movie fan would know this and there are many movies that are filled with factual errors and fallacies that I will review in columns dedicated to this purpose.

At the movies, one has to suspend his imagination the same way a trapeze artist suspends his partner; our hands are placed over our hearts in anticipation: When will he drop her?

Body of Lies is the fallen trapeze artist and she is dead—no longer satisfied with spandex wearing and gun totting villains with oversized brains before and since the 9/11 events Hollywood opted for the Arab villain.

If you trace back the evolution of cinema’s “villain” character you’d discover it evolved from a heartless member of the community to an enemy from behind the borders; but the question is: Whose borders? In the beginning we had Nazis (World War II era), Russians (Cold War era), Palestinians (Palestinian-Israeli conflict era), back to Russians (James Bond movies era), Arabs (with Arabic- English accents in True Lies era), Aliens (probably of Arab ancestry) and finally Islamic Jihadists (post 9/11 era).

Mind you Hollywood always hires Pakistani and Indian actors to play us. Thanks to unknown Arab actors, who provide their voices in those films, such callous villains materialize on screen and are forever engrained in the minds of foreign movie goers.

In truth I am not going to waste words on explaining Scott’s tumultuous cinematic effort as it is not worth it. I simply wanted to break down the mechanism of the Hollywood propaganda machine.

One of the painful things to watch in Body of Lies is when Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), the CIA operative sent to chase Al Saleem (Alon Abutbul, a Jewish actor), meets up with Hani Salaam Pasha (Mark Strong), head of the Jordanian Intelligence in a place full of trash—mountains of human waste amidst chaotic edifices. If you’ve been to Jordan you know we don’t have mountains of piled up trash. We also don’t have flies—ok, now I am lying.

Aren’t you sick of American producers, who take our own stories, tragedies and eventful lives and turn them into no more than bodies of lies like in this movie!

On a finale note: Dear Mr Scott, just because you were not able to secure a shoot at the castle of Karak for your Kingdom of Heaven, at a reasonable price, doesn’t mean you have the right to trash my country the way you did with your Body of Lies.

By Mike V. Derderian
"The Star", Amman, 09 March 2009

Once upon a time in a kingdom called Malaria lived an evil scientist’s hunch-backed lab assistant named Igor—among many other Igors, as you will find out after watching Anthony Leondis’ 2008 animation Igor.

If you have seen Mel Brook’s 1974 Young Frankenstein, then you will realize that Leondis’ movie is the cartoon version, but on a more twisted level.

The characters of this animated movie are wicked and fun. This is probably the only movie in which the song Tomorrow from the musical Annie is used as the backdrop for a mortal combat between the freakish menageries of creatures that the scientists of Malaria created for the annual Evil Science Fair.

Igor stars, amongst its many voice talents, Myleene Klass, Robin Walsh, Eddie Izzard, Jennifer Coolidge, Molly Shannon, Arsenio Hall, Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, Sean Hayes, Matt McKenna, John Cleese, Jay Leno and John Cusack as Igor, the finest cliché hunchback you will ever set eyes on.

Malaria’s King Malbert (Leno) convinces his people to turn evil and asks scientists to create evil inventions so as to blackmail the world.

The dystopian society of Malaria consists of three social categories: Ordinary citizens, evil scientists and Igors; not forgetting the super-freaks the scientists create every now and then.

Leondis’ movie, penned by Chris McKenna, excellently expands the mad scientist/deformed lab assistant relationship. This 87-minute movie sheds light on the inner emotions and aspirations of Igor (Cusack) to become an evil scientist.

When his master Dr Glickenstein (Cleese), who invents a rocket as his entry into the Evil Scientists Fair, is killed during a malfunctioning test run, Igor and his two sidekicks, Scamper (Buscemi) and Brain (Hayes), that he invented, become free.

Where there is an Igor there is a Frankenstein, right! Not quite! The giant and deformed body parts that Igor brings into life calls itself Eva, a mispronunciation of the word “evil”.

Devoid of the clichéd pop culture referential one-liners that have become a standard for animated movies, Igor creates its own catchphrases and the like.

Cusack is brilliant as Igor and so is Buscemi and Hayes as Scamper and Brain, respectively. Molly Shannon does a great job as the gentle female monster-turned-actress after a brainwashing session malfunctions.

The dialogue is witty and the punch-lines that are science oriented are quite funny—a little odd though. The animation is out of the familiar, the atmosphere and ambience is reminiscent of that found in Tim Burton movies and the original music by Patrick Doyle is marvelous.

Eddie Izzard’s voice personification of Dr Schadenfreud, who tries to steal Eva from under Igor’s hunchback, with the help of his shape-shifting femme fatale Jaclyn (Coolidge), is quite lighthearted and a bit unrestrained. We are after all talking about one of the greatest stand-up comedians of the century and who is renowned for advocating drag and cross-dressing. If you still don’t know what I mean keep a lookout for the Elton John tribute scene in which Dr Schadenfreud plays a piano to a crowd of evil scientists.

Igor is not like any animated movie you have seen lately. It is disturbingly funny, gory and unabashed about its humor.

Must-hear-and-see scenes: The Bigger the Figure song by Louis Prima that parodies Gioachino Rossini’s The Marriage of Figaro’s famous cantata Figaro, and that plays as Igor and his sidekicks prepare Eva for a theatrical performance (they tricked the kind hearted giant into thinking that the Annual Evil Science Fair is a theatrical production).  

Added: Monday, September 21, 2009
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