One day Riz Ahmed will be cast in a movie that’s worthy of his talent. If American audiences know him at all, it’s likely from the last time he was saddled with a poorly sketched character. That was Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, an adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. In Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, he’s once again at the mercy of the creaky wheels of plot contrivance.
Ahmed, who in the space of a few seconds can convey compassion and then simmering rage without uttering a word, is Changez Khan, a young man from Pakistan with a Princeton degree and a bright future as a financial analyst. Then terrorists attack the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and his world gradually turns to pudding.
When returning to the US from a work trip in the Philippines, he’s profiled and then strip-searched, complete with a humiliating cavity inspection. He’s later arrested in midtown Manhattan when he’s mistaken by the NYPD for a ranting man spewing death threats. In other words, he’s the wrong color at the wrong time in the wrong place.
All of those instances sound like perfectly reasonable plot points in a perfectly reasonable movie about the ways in which a man may or may not turn to religious fundamentalism and, finally, terrorism. But The Reluctant Fundamentalist isn’t reasonable. It puts Changez in situations that only exist neatly in movies to hammer home a point.
The Source Family is a cult. Or it was a cult.
They never killed anyone, so if you haven’t heard of them, that’s why. Your level of interest in The Source Family documentary will be directly related to how much you care about cults and dislike burned-out hippies.
For example, there’s the cult leader, Jim Baker, who changed his name to Father Yod, and then to something more absurd. The movie features a lot of interviews with former Source Family members, some of whom speak reverently of Baker, some of whom don’t, and the best interviews are with people who thought he was nuts.
Baker, as the movie posits, was a judo master and health food enthusiast. The Source was one of his restaurants, a hot spot of celebrity activity in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Baker was alleged to have killed a couple people, and he opted to do something positive with his life: Create a new religion. And of course, he got to have sex with as many of the beautiful female, possibly underage (wink!) cult members as he liked. What a guy!
There’s more to it than that, but it boils down to abusing power. Fortunately, there’s great music, performed by the cult’s members.
For months - years, even - you’ve heard me talk about cat farts. You know why? BECAUSE CAT FARTS ARE A THING, AND THEY’RE GROSS, AND OUR CATS OCCASIONALLY LET THEM GO. Now I have to mention something else:
We had some peeps over for dinner last month. While tidying beforehand, I was putting some stuff in a closet in the guest room. Our fat black-and-white ingrate Perrin got into the closet and, despite a quick search, remained hidden. I shut the door. Kitty stayed shut inside for about seven hours.
Around midnight (or later), I heard a distant, muffled yowling, the sound of a dickhead cat stuck in a closet. I ran into the guest room, opened the closet door and the little tub of lard spilled out before me. She ran, her feet at first not quite gripping the wood floor like she was in a Warner Bros. cartoon, and disappeared into the house.
And then I smelled it: CAT WEE.
The little butterball had been stuck in there so long she couldn’t hold it, and she used a nice down comforter as a litter box. Since then, the comforter has been cleaned and Perrin has avoided that closet. And if you ever sleep over, you may have a blanket that tells THE TALE OF CAT WEE, OR: THE CAT WHO COULDN’T HOLD IT.
A great trick director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman pulled with Star Trek (2009) was to shake the Etch-a-Sketch and start over. After all, how does one deal with the monster that is the Star Trek universe? One doesn’t. Abrams destroyed, on screen, nearly everything that came before him.
It’s disheartening to report that Star Trek Into Darkness has tacked in the other direction. It pays such direct—and at times, such ironic-corny—homage to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan that one can only think of the newer film’s failures.
There are few universal truths in the Star Trek universe. Here’s one: Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan is the best Star Trek film. It has a superb villain (Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban), gross special effects (creatures in the ears), and a death scene that still surprises with its emotional impact.
Star Trek Into Darkness has a mediocre villain (Khan, played Benedict Cumberbatch, doing the best he can with what he’s given), dumb-cute character moments (the relationship between Zachary Quinto’s Mr. Spock and Zoë Saldana’s Lt. Uhuru), and a misguided attempt to try to top Wrath of Khan’s death scene—under the guise of paying it homage.
Has there been a comedy with this many ass kickings since the Coen brothers’ Miller’s Crossing? The only thing that comes to mind is Michael Bay’s recent Pain & Gain, which has not only ass kickings, but dismemberments, bludgeoning and deaths.
Fortunately, The Angels’ Share isn’t as grim as either of those two very different movies, but because it’s directed by Ken Loach, the sort of grandfather of British social realism in film, it has its darker moments. Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is beaten to a pulp at least twice, and at one point holds a knife to another character’s eye and threatens to gouge it.
That’s all prelude to the comedy—seriously. The Angels’ Share is a caper film about second, third and fourth chances. And even if those chances all have to do with crime, they’re crimes with an eye toward pulling a big enough score that one never has to commit another crime or need more chances.
Such is the set-up for many a caper comedy. Loach and his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Paul Laverty, manage to subvert expectations while delivering hearty laughs and even adding a little pathos.