Indie Weekend Roundup: The Reluctant Fundamentalist review

It’s the last weekend of MSPfest and it’s been great watching a bunch of indie films. Saw The Hunt last night and this is my initial reaction:

Now, two of the last three films I’m reviewing this week happen to be are directed by women. It’s interesting that they’re two VERY different genres, this one is a dramatic thriller and the other one I’m finishing up on, In A World, is a comedy, but both are highly recommended.

Anyway, on to the review:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

A young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family’s homeland.

I happen to see the trailer just a week before I saw the MSPfest schedule so I signed up to see it right away. This is the kind of film that will likely raise some eyebrows and some people might have strong feelings about it, whether good or bad. I guess that’s to be expected given the subject matter involves terrorism, though this film is not so much about an extremist attack, but the reaction when such a heinous event occurs. This film also works as a character study of an intriguing character named Changez, who like many immigrants, often is (or feels) torn between two worlds.

The film opens with the kidnapping of an American college professor off the street in Pakistan, and somehow Changez, a fellow university teacher, appears to be right in the middle of the Pakistani/American conflict. That’s what Bobby, an American journalist, alludes to when he interviews Changez at a cafe. “I only ask that you please listen to the whole story, not just bits and pieces…” Changez said to Bobby, to which the journalist agrees and as the tape recorder rolls, we’re taken to Changez’s life ten years prior. We saw that he came from a rather privileged background in Lahore and that he was as a prodigious student at Princeton. With the potent combination of extraordinary intellect and tenacity, it’s no surprise he soon attain the American dream when he’s hired at a high-powered consulting firm Underwood Samson. He seemed to have it all, even his love life seems to be going well when he met a free-spirited American girl Erica. But then, 9/11 happened, and from the moment Changez witnessed the footage of the plane hitting the twin tower, things aren’t going to be the same for him.

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Now, there have been countless films on that subject, but I feel that The Reluctant Fundamentalist manages to tackle the side not often explored but certainly worth telling. As an immigrant, I empathize with Changez even if I don’t necessarily agree with his decisions. In fact, the whole time I was watching the scenes of him literally being harassed by counter-terrorism officers and TSA agents simply because of his nationality, I kept thinking of a Pakistani college friend of mine who actually share a very similar background as Changez. I’d imagine watching this film would perhaps hit too close to home for him.

I appreciate that the film doesn’t really take sides, in fact, it challenges me to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and to see a complex human emotion at play where things aren’t always so black and white. In the midst of such a tense story though, I also find the film to be surprisingly witty and humorous. Changez making a droll reference to CSI Miami to Bobby and the one that got the most laugh, his nonchalant quip about wanting to be a dictator of a middle eastern country with nuclear capabilities when his workmates ask him about what he wanted to be in the next ten years. Even in its humor though, the filmmaker is well-aware of people’s natural prejudices when faced with a character like Changez.

I was very impressed with London-born Riz Ahmed as Changez. The Oxford-educated actor is also a rapper under the name Riz MC. Apparently I had seen him before in a small role in Centurion, but this is the role that really showcase his talent as an actor. He’s effortlessly believable as an intellectual, a charismatic leader, and a romantic lead, which is a testament to his versatility. Ahmed’s melancholy yet expressive big, black eyes say so much, and I can’t help being drawn to his character up until the very end.

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Brunette Kate Hudson is quite good here as Erica, herself a tortured soul because of a past incident that killed her former boyfriend. The two have a convincing chemistry, though from the start it’s clear the relationship is built on feeble ground. Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber offer decent supporting performances. It’s interesting to see Mr. Jack Bauer NOT playing some CIA officer in a story that could’ve easily been an extended episode of 24.

Overall, I’m impressed with BAFTA-winning Indian director Mira Nair‘s film adaptation from Mohsin Hamid’s novel. How one receives this particular film is likely going to vary from person to person, but I do think it’s well worth a watch as a cultural drama about a subject that’s sadly always going to be timely.


Thoughts on this film yet? Is this something you’re intrigued to see?

DVD Review: Nine

Style is the new content,” Kate Hudson’s character Stephanie, an American fashion journalist working for Vogue told Guido Contini. Well, that’s about sums up the sensibility of this movie, which is nothing short of style over substance.

Based on Frederico Fellini’s 8-1/2 (reviewed by guest blogger Rockerdad), it centers on the renowned Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) who’s having a serious writer’s block and personal crisis right in the middle of filming of his new movie. Apparently Guido is so highly regarded that when any project he sets his sights on will get green-lit even without so much as a script. So the million dollar set is built, costumes are designed and sown, famous movie stars are cast… but, nobody knows what the story is all about. All the constant attention, pressures from the media, and the producers anxious to hear what he’ll do next all caving in on him like a landslide and Guido is trapped underneath, gasping for air.

At the center of it all is the women that encircles him, both from the past and the future: his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), his film star muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman), his confidant and costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench), an American fashion journalist Stephanie (Kate Hudson), the whore from his youth Saraghina (Fergie) and his mother (Sophia Loren). Each of these women and their encounter with the director offers a glimpse of Guido’s eccentricity and reveals what a flawed ‘hero’ he is.

When I first heard about this movie last Summer, I thought ‘Wow, this is going to be a massive hit when it’s released during the holiday season!’ Just looking at the impressive cast and Rob Marshall’s cred as the director of the Oscar’s Best Picture winner Chicago, it seemed that this one is destined for success. Alas, this was perhaps one of the biggest flops of last year. Its domestic total barely made up a quarter of the $80 million budget! (per Box Office Mojo) and it bombed critically too, earning a paltry 36% on RottenTomatoes. The consensus on RT says: It has a game, great-looking cast, led by the always worthwhile Daniel Day-Lewis, but Rob Marshall’s Nine is chaotic and curiously distant. I concur.

Nine_GuidoLouisaNow, I’m not saying the movie is a complete waste of time. It’s sort of the case where the parts are actually greater than the whole, as some of the song/dance scenes are quite memorable, though when put together as a movie it’s all a bit… disconcerted. Before I get to the scenes, let me just talk about the performances. Now, Day-Lewis is a maestro in acting, so even in a not-so-great movies, this guy still delivers a solid rendition of the main character. So he didn’t really shine like a new penny, as he spends most of the time sulking and all discombobulated, but that is what Guido is all about and Day-Lewis captures it perfectly.

But among the female cast, my favorite has got to be Luisa, Guido’s former-film-star wife. Luisa gave up acting when she marries Guido, but she’s constantly abandoned by her husband. She laments about her pain in the musical sequence ‘My husband makes movies,’  it was sung beautifully by the sublime Marion Cotillard. I love the melody of the song, but especially the words and the way she sings them. No wonder she won an Oscar for her performance as French singer Edith Piaf in La vie en rose. In her IMDb trivia, it’s said that ‘if she had not been an actress, she would have liked to become a singer’ No doubt she would have a flourishing career in that as well. Cotillard is also the only cast member who has two musical numbers in the movie, Take it all is much more spirited and wildly sensuous but still kind of sad when you listen to the lyrics.

I love these two songs much more than the robust Cinema Italiano, performed with radiance and vigor by Kate Hudson. It’s obviously the more marketable as it’s used in the trailer. It’s enjoyable but just like the movie, it’s highly superficial. I think I like Luisa’s songs better because they’re much more poignant and heart-rending. The other memorable numbers are Penelope Cruz’s sexually-charged performing the ironically-named “A Call from the Vatican,” and the sentimental Unusual Way by Nicole Kidman.

Overall, I enjoyed it and the songs are quite memorable. For sure I won’t buy the dvd, but I just might order the soundtrack!

2.5 out of 5 reels

What do you think of NINE?

NINE Musical Trailer 3

Man, I’ve been giving so much free publicity for the Weinsteins but I can’t help myself. I thought the second trailer of the NINE musical flick couldn’t get any more awesome. Well I was wrong. In this third trailer, we finally hear the man speak. Daniel Day-Lewis is sporting a believable Italian accent as Guido Contini, perhaps because the actor did learn how to speak Italian for the movie according to IMDb trivia. If you have a couple of minutes to spare, the trivia page also lists some amazing names who were at one time either interested or considered for this movie, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger (both Chicago alums), Amy Adams, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Hathaway. George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Antonio Banderas were also considered for the role of Guido, although I can’t imagine any of them in that role after seeing such a virtuosic performance by Day-Lewis.

Anyway, I LOVE this trailer. Though I didn’t mind the musical montages of the previous two, it’s nice to finally get the gist of the story and the kind of predicament the renowned director is in. We also get a glimpse of the roles the nine women play in his life. Is it just me but in the little snippet I heard of Nicole Kidman’s singing brought back memories of Moulin Rouge. I’m assuming most of the actress playing the starlets are doing their own singing in this movie.

So, anybody else excited to see this flick?