by Gabriel Valdez
The photo above is real. It was taken by Massoud Hossaini and documented the aftermath of a suicide bombing aimed at Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan. The name of the girl screaming is Tarana Akbari. It means “Melody” in English. 17 women and children in her family were walking to a shrine to celebrate a holy day, Ashura. Seven died. This information is taken from the Pulitzer Prize website. This photo was shared around the world, and helped keep focus on Afghanistan at a time when it was drifting from the public eye.
There’s a perception that being an artist is easy, a lazy way out. You tell me: What’s the most important thing you can do in that moment? Help the girl or take the photo? Each choice changes lives; each choice sacrifices the opportunity to change other lives.
TRAILER OF THE WEEK
FRAME BY FRAME
American society likes to downplay the role of artists – that they’re narcissistic, self-serving, or feel that the expectations of society are less important than their own personal goals – but this is a dangerous rejection. Artists often have a vital role to play in being a culture’s conscience. That can be in the form of comedians, photographers, painters, filmmakers, any kind of artist.
In Afghanistan, where photography was banned under the Taliban, it falls upon photographers to remind the world of the daily struggles and intolerances their citizens face. They know what stability is there will fall apart when the U.S. leaves because, well, they’ve seen it before in their lifetimes. The fault isn’t in our leaving again, it’s in our leaving nothing of value behind again, focusing on winning wars rather than building schools and hospitals and roads, leaving nothing for their population to pick up but weapons and damning ourselves to another war there 20 years later.
Directors Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli depict how photographers can use our interconnected world to keep pressure on Western nations to build something more. It’s an uphill battle, it’s a battle unlikely to be won, but that doesn’t mean that artists shouldn’t have it because along the way they will save lives, they will improve their culture’s situation, and they will make things that much better and more stable to survive the next war and the next dictatorship. That’s the role of an artist – not narcissism, but self-sacrifice, even if those they’re sacrificing for couldn’t recognize that in a million years. How dangerous is it to devalue your own conscience?
How exceptional would it be to suddenly discover you have an adopted twin halfway around the world? That’s the unique experience Twinsters documents. I know very little about it, but Samantha Futerman documents her own strange experience of meeting her twin. It’s the sort of unlikely drama we attach to fiction and never expect to encounter in reality, but these are the things that become more likely as our web of social networks makes the world a smaller place.
I AM BIG BIRD
Very few people realize that Caroll Spinney has been playing Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street for nearly 50 years now. What’s the story behind a puppeteer and voice actor who is, essentially, synonymous with the entire history of the most successful children’s program in TV history? And what does that history mean going forward, at a time when public television is under political attack for…well, I’m really still unsure why Republicans in Congress keep trying to pull funding from it.
I’m told I approached my mother with a storybook once, when I was very young. She assumed I wanted her to read it to me. I started reading it to her instead. My parents were terrifically involved in my growth, but like many things in my life, I had kept my ability to read private until I could do it at a certain level. They were shocked I could read so early. They asked me how. I had two words: “Sesame Street.” I don’t see how you pull what amounts to very little public funding for a show that can teach children – some who have parents who weren’t as involved as mine were – to read.
I know, it’s Taylor Lautner, and he was the pinnacle of horrible in a franchise pretty much dedicated to horrible. Although I think the first Twilight is perfectly acceptable for what it is, its four(!?!) sequels were increasingly dreadful. Every other actor in the movies, however – Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Anna Kendrick, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning, Mackenzie Foy – boasts a career composed of far better performances. The evidence suggests none of them are bad actors, but rather they all joined in on a franchise composed of terrible performances.
Why should Lautner be any different? I don’t see any reason not to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially in a movie that looks like the lovechild of Point Break and Premium Rush, and features parkour as its action focus.
I have no idea of the context of this, nor of its underlying messages or historical or mythical accuracy. I have zero background in this, but there aren’t a whole lot of epics from Sri Lanka that we get a chance to see, and my radar starts going wild any time I get a chance to see movies from a film industry that – to me, at least – is new.
Every culture inputs something new and different into the films they make, adds something new to the visual language that makes up storytelling in movies. That’s why I’m excited for this, even if I know little else about it.
BEFORE I WAKE
Mike Flanagan put out Oculus last year and it was a moodily effective, if ultimately underwhelming, horror movie. I look forward to seeing what he does as he continues to develop and evolve as a filmmaker. The plot of Before I Wake feels a little predictable, but some of those visuals are more effective than I want to admit. If he can pull those off, he’ll join a small group of young directors who – I don’t want to be overdramatic here – are basically our only hope of saving a woeful American horror genre.
Mumblecore – a genre defined by naturalistic acting, often messily overlapped dialogue, and real shooting locations – has long been a genre associated with twenty-something melodrama. While that’s all well and fine (and a bit underrated in what it can contribute to film), I find it fascinating when it’s applied to other genres. Take You’re Next, a 2013 horror movie that adopts mumblecore as an effective way of marrying dark comedy to intense horror.
While mumblecore would seem tailor-made to the screwball comedy, the reality is that nobody really thinks to make screwball comedies of any sort anymore. That’s a shame, and one reason Wild Canaries is on my list of harder-to-track-down films.
Rose Byrne has a head for intriguing and challenging independent film. She’s followed a career of never quite going mainstream, yet she often pushes her movies into unexpected box office success anyway. Despite the disaster that was last year’s Neighbors (read the review), I’m more than willing to trust her in an indie comedy opposite Nick Kroll – despite or because of the fact they’re playing enabling narcissists, I’m not really sure.
THE ROAD WITHIN
It’s a Dev Patel world, we’re just living in it. Two weeks ago he had two debuts – Chappie (read the review) and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – that opened first and third on box office charts. Later this year, The Road Within will find its way to rental, if not the theater, and even if the trailer looks a little rote, it also looks fun. That and Dev Patel is quickly becoming a bit of a must-see actor for me.
Other trailers of note:
Pixar’s latest animated film, Inside Out, debuted its first real story trailer.
Hotel Transylvania 2 featured its first trailer, a cute scene about vampires learning to fly.
Maggie Kiley’s Dial a Prayer looks like it could be a very good comedy.