Pras on WorldFilms: BEFORE WE GO

Before We Go3In “Before We Go,” Chris Evans’ directorial debut, the film creates a  tepid homage (in title and form) to Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s “Before” trilogy.

Two strangers meet in Grand Central Terminal in the early-morning hours and bounce around New York City until dawn, kept together by failing cellphones, a lack of cash and a conveniently stolen purse.

Evans casts himself as Nick, a trumpet player preparing for an audition (and delaying dropping by a party, where he knows he’ll see his ex), kills time busking in the resonant corridors of Grand Central Station, when the beautiful, flustered Brooke (Alice Eve) passes through in a blur, rushing to make the 1:30 a.m. train to New Haven, only to find she is watching it leave the station. Brooke (Alice Eve) is an art consultant who has missed the last train of the night. The need for her urgent return to Boston becomes clearer as the wee hours progress.

Before We Go2Evans offers to help this clearly distressed damsel, whose purse has been stolen and whose cell phone is conveniently bust. Long on charm but short on cash, Nick can offer Brooke only maxed-out credit cards and a protective arm around her shoulder as they set off through the Manhattan mean streets in search of her errant Prada bag.

This sets the stage for a long night of walking and talking amid the pre-dawn neon and manhole steam. The two wayward souls begin to bare themselves to one another. She’s an art buyer in town to close a deal, while hubby is away on business in Atlanta and doesn’t know she is in New York. He is still on the rebound from a bad breakup, a spurned proposal from the ex. he is avoiding meeting later that evening at a party.

A series of misadventures follows, with the duo swapping life stories in bits and pieces. While “Before We Go” is a nice film, one can’t help compare it constantly with the film that opened up this storytelling style – “Before Sunrise”.

Before We Go1Twenty years ago, Richard Linklater created for Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy two rich characters who shared an instant spark, and their thoughtful, analytical conversations left you feeling truly invested in what would happen once the sun came up. The constant comparison to this groundbreaking film style, makes it a challenge for “Before We Go” to shine throughout, even though it is a nice little film.

Before We Go4The city does look lovely. Cinematographer John Guleserian (“Like Crazy,” “About Time”) makes Manhattan glitter and shimmer in all the most romantic ways

 

 

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Pras on WorldFilms: THEEB

THEEB is a visually stunning and spellbinding Jordanian adventure film set in the farthest reaches of the Ottoman Empire in 1916. The movie is set in a period known as the Arab Theeb3Revolt, when Arab nationalists sought independence from the Ottoman Turks. The same year as “Lawrence of Arabia.”

During the first world war, a young boy in a Bedouin encampment (Jacir Eid) grows curious about the blond-haired, blue-eyed Englishman (Jack Fox, with decidedly evokes Lawrence-like  mien) who’s appeared from nowhere with a (what he believes) is a trunkful of gold.

“Theeb” is the directorial debut of Naji Abu Nowar, a British-born Oxford-educated filmmaker who grew up in Jordan. The film is an Aabic-version throwback to the westerns in the tradition of Sergio Leone. THEEB was  Jordan’s entry in the foreign language category of the 2015 Academy Awards.

Theeb5Events in history are seen through the eyes of a Bedouin child named Theeb (Jacir Eid), who has had no contact with the world outside his desert community. The young hero, played by Jacir Eid, got his name from his father, now deceased. It means “wolf” in Arabic. Coming from a family of pilgrim guides that roam the deserts on camels. Theeb, whose father has recently died, is the youngest of three sons in this family of guides. During these years, traditional Bedouin culture is being rapidly disrupted by the new railway a railway (nicknamed the Iron Donkey Trail) connecting Damascus and Medina. This would soon eliminate the need for Bedouin pilgrim guides.

The story begins in Theeb’s traditional Bedouin desert community, where, in the middle of the night, a blond British Army officer, Edward (Jack Fox), and his Arab sidekick, Marji (Marji Audeh), appear out of nowhere, seeking a well near the Ottoman train tracks. Edward has a wooden box rumored to contain gold.

Hussein (Hussein Salameh), the second-oldest of the three recently orphaned brothers, agrees to lead the party. Theeb,  instructed to stay behind is already recieving training in use of guns and how to wield a knife. He is a natural warrior who has an avid fascination with weaponry.

Theeb1Theeb, whose name means wolf, disobeys his brother and follows the men to the well, which they discover to be contaminated from slaughtered bodies thrown into it. Minutes later, they are ambushed in a canyon by a band of outlaws, and Edward and his companion are killed. Hussein and Theeb abandon their camel and flee to higher ground, but the next day, Hussein is shot before Theeb’s eyes, leaving the younger boy unarmed and alone, to brave the elements and the Arabic equivalent of the Wild West.

Theeb4More than style, though, it’s the substance of “Theeb” that’s memorable. The story of a Bedouin Boy’s Brutal Coming-of-Age whose nomadic way of life is threatened by war raging across the Ottoman Empire. THEEB, as a Bedouin-western film features the wide-open spaces of Jordan, the locations are as awe-inspiring in their breadth and aridity as the vistas. The film’s acute sense of this unforgiving environment is underscored by a soundtrack in which gunfire and voices ricochet eerily through the spiky canyons and arid mountain passes. Theeb is continually brushing off bugs.

Theeb2He learns about guns, dangerous strangers and the need to make strategic alliances with one’s enemies. Every Bedouin character, huddling round campfire games and slaughtering sheep, is played by a real-life tribesman. However the film isn’t political or anti-colonial in a conventional sense, but it plays out at a time when, as the boy is told (by a particularly dangerous stranger who is also a pilgrim guide), the railroad and what it brings is destroying Bedouin culture to the point of brother killing brother. Theeb himself is a pilgrim, searching for brotherhood in a bewildering world of sand lashed by relentless winds.

 

ABBAS KIAROSTAMI | Film-Maker | 1997 Palme d’Or Winner | R.I.P.

ABBAS KIAROSTAMI | One Of The Most Respected Film Directors To Emerge On Global Stage From Iran | Hounded By Iran’s Political Regime. Forced To Work Out Of Paris. | Won Palme d’Or 1997. | Made One Of My Favorite Films “Certified Copy” Starring Juliette Binoche. | R.I.P. | A Big Loss to World Films.

Iranian Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami Dies at 76

 

Pras on WorldFilms: SANGRE DE MI SANGRE (US/Mexico | English/Spanish)

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Director and screenwriter Christopher Zalla’s debut film “PADRE NUESTRO,” (also released as “Sangre De Mi Sangre” in the US)  is a tale of stolen identity and desperation that unfolds as a taut thriller and showcases some awesome performances by a multi-generational cast.

At its heart the film is a story of survival at any cost and the odds that lie against an illegal immigrant, the grit and hardships demanded of these unfortunate people.

Padre Nuestro is a very original, very dark and shadowy drama with unexpected story twists. It also jerks you back and forth between two parallel story tracks.  The film won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic film of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. It was also screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

In Padre Nuestro, a film almost entirely in Spanish with small English portions.

SangreWe meet the hero, Pedro, as he escapes from Mexico by quickly scaling a fence along the U.S. border. Waiting on the other side (not miles away, or hidden) is a truck for taking immigrants to New York. Pedro is hustled inside, the doors are slammed, and the truck begins a 2,500-mile journey, to be survived entirely on half a taco and a small bottle of water.

Now begins the story of Pedro (Jorge Adrián Espíndola), a Mexican immigrant who is traveling by truck to New York City to find his wealthy father, Diego (Jesús Ochoa), a man he has never met. All Pedro has is a 17-year-old letter with an address at which Diego once worked. He harbors a strong desire to make contact with his dad and carries the letter of introduction from his mother to help him accomplish his goal.

It is also the story of Juan (Armando Hernandez) Juan, a ruthless and conniving ex-career criminal who tries to escape his past by hopping on the same truck as Pedro, transporting illegal immigrants from Mexico to the Big Apple.and Pedro (Jorge Adrian Espindola).

sangre2Pedro (the sweet naive kid from Puebla long-estranged from his father, Diego) meets Juan meet on the truck.

Over the course of his journey, Juan meets and befriends Pedro. When the truck arrives he finds that Juan has stolen all he has,  and then proceeds to assume his identity to trick Pedro’s father throughout the movie. Pedro slowly makes his way to New York, but Juan arrives first and finds Diego, convincing him that he is his long-lost son. The truest of these relationships, paradoxically, is the false one.

sangre3Meanwhile, the “real” Pedro wanders the streets, remembering only his father’s street address (still accurate after 17 years). He enlists Magda, a hard-worn Mexican girl, who does drugs, makes a living by her wits and her body, and wants nothing to do with Pedro. They nevertheless become confederates, picking up $50 here or there by performing sex for men who want to watch.

Jesus Ochoa, a much-honored Mexican actor, creates a heartbreaking performance as Diego, the “old man,” as Juan always calls him. He was once in love in Mexico, left, sent sangre4money home, returned, and then (after apparently fathering the real Pedro), returned to New York 17 years ago. Maybe he told his wife he owned a restaurant, or maybe she lied about that to her son. No matter. He is a dishwasher and vegetable slicer, who earns extra money by sewing artificial roses. He has money stashed away. He is big, burly, very lonely. He comes to care for this “son.” Despite Juan’s deception, Juan comes to care for him — almost, you could say, as a father.

sangre 5Magda is a tougher case. She does not bestow her affection lightly, nor is the real Pedro attracted to prostitution as a way for them to earn money. But Christopher Zalla, (who wrote and directed this contemporary post-noir thriller), does a perceptive, concise job of showing us how Magda lives on the streets and nearly dies. Magda and Pedro are together as a matter of mutual survival.

sangre 6The film alternates between the story of each man as they each seek out food and shelter and comb the city for the man in whom they see a chance to establish a secure future. Pedro, Juan and Diego have paths that must eventually cross

 

 

Pras on WorldFilms: HORN PLEASE (India / Documentary)

hornplease

One unmistakable feature of the Indian highway is the presence of the brightly decorated trucks that ply the country’s roads. The men who drive these trucks spend long hours on the road and can be away from their families for weeks at a time, so their trucks act as a second home and they take great pride in them. The interior and exterior of the trucks are colorfully decorated with paintings, stickers, garlands, tassels, and shrines, which are not only a unique form of folk art but also an expression of individualism.

The title of the documentary — ” HORN PLEASE “ — is derived from a message seen behind each and every truck in India. It is a signal for the vehicles behind the trucks to blow the horn before overtaking. The sheer exposure of the signage has led it to become a popular phrase among Indians.

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HORN PLEASE is a documentary that encapsulates various aspects of an age-old folk art form of India — the TRUCK ART, an art form that makes journeys through the dusty highways of India, incredible in more ways than one. With a kaleidoscope of bright paints, motifs, typography and some unique couplets, these Indian trucks take you on a rather colorful journey of diverse cultures and beliefs of the country. The designs painted on the trucks do not merely stand for aesthetic purposes, but they also attempt to depict religious, sentimental, and emotional viewpoints of the people related to the truck industry.

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This film focuses on the origin of truck art and its evolution since then. And also how it influences not just the world of art, but also the lives of its artists and the truckers who interact with it on a daily basis. Largely, it investigates on whether the once-accepted type of art as a unique form of expression, will survive the test of time in this era of capitalism.

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Horn-3WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY

Another Interesting Book With A Similar Title “HORN PLEASE: The Decorated Trucks of India” by Dan Eckstein:

Photographer Dan Eckstein traveled over 10,000km across India’s byzantine and danburgeoning road network documenting these elaborately decorated trucks festooned with lights, brightly colored text, paintings of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian deities, pop cultural fixtures and geometric patterns–symbols representing a blinding mashup of new and old India. What Eckstein produced is a singular portrait of the subcontinent–distinctly Indian, and a vividly colored reflection of this country in flux between tradition and modernity. “Horn Please” serves as a psychedelic guide to design in India and a showcase of the visual vernacular of the subcontinent.

The book captures the beauty of India’s truck driving culture …offers a glimpse inside the world of drivers, truck stops, restaurants, and repair services that make up a roadside culture familiar yet wildly distinct from the one most Westerners have come to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pras on WorldFilms: AMAL (Hindi / Canadian)

AMAL is a 2007 Canadian drama film directed and written by Toronto-based filmmakeramal2 Richie Mehta. Set in modern-day New Delhi, India, it tells the story of a poor autorickshaw driver. The plot relies on several unlikely coincidences in Delhi, a city of nearly 14 million people, but it’s a welcome departure from the predictable rags-to-riches story.

Amal Kumar (Rupinder Nagra), the hardworking rickshaw driver commits his days to ensuring the safety and well being of his passengers. His random acts of kindness are observed by an eccentric, ageing billionaire, who masquerades as a beggar in order to find a worthy heir to his fortune. This contemporary fairy tale takes place on the streets of New Delhi, and suggests that ‘sometimes the poorest of men are the richest’.

nagraFrom its initial frames, “Amal” conveys a vivid sense of daily street-level existence in the Indian capital, where kindly, bearded Amal Kumar (Nagra) drives passengers in the auto-rickshaw he inherited from his late father. When one of his regular fares, beautiful, headstrong store-owner Seth (Koel Purie), loses her purse to a young street urchin, Priya (Tanisha Chatterjee), Amal chases the thief on foot, only to watch in horror as she’s struck by an oncoming vehicle.

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Kind-hearted Amal visits the girl, Priya (Tanisha Chatterjee) in hospital, discovers she’s an orphan who works for a crime boss known as The Godfather, and bribes a nurse to take extra good care of her.  The precocious Priya seems to recover quickly but doctors inform Amal she needs an expensive life-saving operation.

His fundamentally generous nature is also revealed in his treatment of another passenger, amala curmudgeonly person (Naseeruddin Shah), whose tetchy insults and impatience fail to penetrate Amal’s calm, deferential attitude. As he sets out to raise the money for Priya’s expensive life-saving operation, we learn that the curmudgeonly vagabond he had driven around is in fact G.K. Jayaram, a dying millionaire. G.K. had been searching for Delhi’s ‘only honest man,” and found him in Amal.

G.K. has changed his will to leave his fortune to the humble rickshaw driver – on the condition that his lawyers find the lad within 30 days of his death. His lawyer asks G.K.’s former business partner, Suresh (Roshan Seth) to locate Amal. But Suresh conspires with his greedy nephew, one of the old man’s sons, to keep the money.

The script thus develops into two races against time: While Amal struggles to raise moneyamal for Priya’s operation, G.K.’s lawyer (Seema Biswas) tries to find the generically named rickshaw driver to whom her client unexpectedly left his vast fortune. Thrown into the mix is a cliched subplot involving G.K.’s scheming son Vivek (Vik Sahay) who wants his rightful share of inheritance. Also is the fact that Amal seeks financial help for Priya’s operation from the same crime boss to whom Vivek owes gambling debts.

Rupinder Nagra brings a serene wisdom to Amal that captivates and transports us. The life-affirming story evokes lingering vestiges of the caste system and examines a family in which wealth creates nothing but the hunger for more. At the end of his life, the patriarch holds up a mirror to the world he inhabited as a tycoon but departed as an ascetic. Amal is an inadvertent inspiration to Jayaram, for Amal has always known something that the rich man only just learned; we are defined as much by what we sacrifice as we are by what we possess.The supporting cast brims with sterling Indian vets \who are hard-edged but essentially decent, from Purie’s feisty businesswoman and Naseeeruddin Shah’s belligerent benefactor to Seema Biswas’ highly principled attorney.

 

Directed by Richie Mehta
Produced by Steven Bray
Written by Richie Mehta
Shaun Mehta
Starring Rupinder Nagra
Naseeruddin Shah
Seema Biswas
Koel Purie
Vik Sahay
Roshan Seth
Music by Dr. Shiva
Cinematography Mitchell Ness
Edited by Stuart A. McIntyre

Pras on WorldFilms: LONDON HAS FALLEN

London has 2A sequel to an earlier Antoine Fuqua’s 2013 original (“Olympus Has Fallen”). After the death of the British prime minister, the world’s most powerful leaders gather in London to pay their respects. Without warning, terrorists unleash a devastating attack that leaves the city in chaos and ruins.

LONDON HAS FALLEN sees Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) back by President Benjamin Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) side.Benjamin Asher – the widowed president who survived a North Korea-backed attack on the White House – and his equally indestructible, bodyguard Mike Banning (a sweary Gerard Butler) are in a new situation. However, now that his wife Leah (Radha Mitchell) is about to give birth to their first child, Banning is considering resigning from the Secret Service. But, before he can even finish drafting his resignation letter, Mike must accompany President Asher to London for a funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Trouble is, little do they know, the funeral is actually being used to orchestrate an unprecedented terrorist attack, targeting London’s most famous landmarks and some of the world’s most powerful leaders, including Asher.

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The bad guy portion of the backstory is an arms dealer named Aarmir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul), a drippingly rich and malevolent Pakistani. The bad guys’ motive: To exact revenge from the West having killed his daughter and many others by a drone strike at her lavish wedding, where he was the main target.

The only thing that emerges clearly from the hell storm is that there had to have been significant enemy infiltration of Britain’s security forces. As the world television audience witnesses the mayhem, several heads of state are killed, while Benning tries to spirit the President by chopper back to the waiting Air Force One. They don’t make it, instead landing on foot somewhere on the outskirts of London with no choice but to battle their way back into the city, block by block, and reach the American Embassy.

The bad guys, led locally by Barkawi’s son (Waleed F. Zuaiter), have a different idea, which is to kidnap the President and get the highest ratings in history by executing him on television.

Helmed by Iranian (now Swedish) director Babak Najafi (who came to Sweden as a young 11-year old refugee).

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The film’s settings, circumstances and quips manage to keep each set piece feeling fresh enough so that the film never loses much momentum. The film’s signal achievement is an impressive firefight sequence that’s presented towards the end in a single take, during which Butler shoots up countless enemies while making a mad dash for a particular location. However, there are also instances when the CGI is mediocre at best, particularly when it comes to big explosions. It’s almost as if someone cobbled together the most familiar and basic digital destruction shots and threw as many possible into London Has Fallen. But, then again, London Has Fallen isn’t about proper story structure or a compelling narrative. It’s about seeing Butler barrel down the streets of London decimating as many enemies as possible.

While not nearly as elaborate, nor as visually sophisticated as the last Mission: Impossible outing or the most recent Bonds, London Has Fallen is actually more plausible at its core, if not in its details, which is partly why it succeeds in laying claim to an audience’s attention for the entirety of its swift running time. The film’s kinetic action is its real highlight, essentially a series of chases carried out across central London’s streets and subway system.

Familiar faces from Olympus Has Fallen return: Morgan Freeman as vice president, Angela Bassett as director of the Secret Service, a near-silent Melissa Leo as secretary of State. On the American side, old hands like Robert Forster and Jackie Earle Haley are more or less seat-fillers at the Situation Room roundtable, and among the British there’s a gallery of shifty-eyed agents offered up as potential moles.