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Where Do We Go Now?: Light but Profound Film on Religious Sectarianism
This film tells the story of a small village in Lebanon around the turn of this century. Their only connection to the outside world is through a treacherous walk over a rickety stone bridge and they barely have access to television and radio reception. The whole village relies on two boys who frequently make the trek over to the nearest town on an old scooter, running errands and supplying the villagers with newspapers, clothes and other bits and pieces. Despite their near-total isolation, the religious sectarian violence affecting Lebanon as a whole manages to filter in, disturbing the villagers’ peaceful coexistence.
Where Do We Go Now? explores the women’s often comical attempts at keeping the peace in their village. They employ different strategies to keep the men distracted from the news thus protecting their village and families from unnecessary bloodshed.
The film’s opening scene is of a procession of women clad wholly in black, some with covered hair the others carrying crosses, making their way to the cemetery that is divided into two based on faith.
The women come as one, split off according to religion then engage in the exact same acts, mourning and grieving their loved ones, of which there are many and all of whom are men. It’s a very powerful scene that sets up the film perfectly. It asserts that shared experiences can be more powerful than shared faith and that believing in different religions doesn’t make people fundamentally different.
Now this is how you tackle a serious, highly relevant subject without preaching. This is also how you successfully, and more importantly respectfully, portray female relationships. Where Do We Go Now? gives us what is practically a war story, from the point of view of the women. War is erupting between Muslims and Christians all over Lebanon, and the women of the village are hell bent on preventing intolerant, hateful sentiments from taking root in their home despite the fact that the men are becoming exceedingly volatile. And before the words ‘war story’ send anybody off running, the film is not gory in the slightest nor does it revel in any form of brutality. In fact, the closest it gets to a physical depiction of war is the odd fistfight.
Director Labaki’s touch is all over the film and to anyone who’s seen her debut, Caramel, this is highly apparent. She excels at portraying multilayered female relationships and dealing with the interaction between people in general. The film is at its strongest when the women are figuring out a solution to their community’s problem. On the other hand, the film lacks the same emotional punch when the focus shifts to personal problems.
In general though, the film seems effortless. The strength of the characters’ relationships make the events flow very organically, succeeding in subtly showing the film’s message and side stepping any preaching. Even more impressively, the film’s cohesiveness isn’t interrupted in the slightest during the two musical interludes where the characters burst into song. It also helps that the songs are thoroughly charming and in fact the score as a whole is pretty gorgeous and fits the film perfectly. The acting is spot on and the women have a lived-in feel that really sells the story. Their relationships feel very genuine and they play off of each other perfectly; especially when they’re joking around and devising outlandish schemes to keep the guys distracted.
Where Do We Go Now? is a great, distinctly Arab film in that it deftly blends tragedy, comedy, melodrama and musical interludes. It tackles a really difficult subject, yet it is perfectly balanced as a light, crowd pleaser with an important and relevant, if rather simplistic, message.
Emerging from a lesser-known comic-book line, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel’s tenth, and possibly quirkiest, offering – proves to be a risk well taken.
Set entirely in the galactic immensity of outer space, Guardians of the Galaxy follows the story of Peter Quill (Pratt); a twenty-six-year-old Earthling who was abducted as a young boy and raised by The Ravegers – an alien gang of thieves led by the notorious, Yondu (Rooker).
Far away from home, Peter – a.k.a Star Lord – now roams the cosmos and soon comes across a special orb; a silver infinity stone that holds an incredible amount of power. Unfortunately, he’s not the only interested party and he is soon confronted by Korath (Hounsou); the right-hand man of one of the most villainous terrorists in the galaxy, Ronan (Pace), who wants to use the orb to overthrow a rival civilization run by Nova Prime (Close).
Intrigued by the high interest in his new discovery, Peter turns his back on Yondu, who sends assassin, Gamora (Saldana), to retrieve the orb.
He also soon attracts the attention of bounty hunters, Rocket (voiced by Cooper) – a sly raccoon warrior – and his best pal, talking tree-like human, Groot (voiced by Diesel).
After causing a public disturbance, Peter and his pursuers are soon put in prison and form a temporary bond, along with muscular inmate, Draz (Bautista), in order to break out and prevent the precious stone from falling into the wrong hands.
Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, Guardians of the Galaxy is refreshingly off-beat, steadfast and full of character. Visually, Gunn paints his intergalactic backdrop with plenty of colour, however some of the CGI tends to feel a little overcooked and the action-scenes – although pretty entertaining– feel a little unrefined.
Pratt – whose character and performance has already drawn comparisons to Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones – proves to be a solid and extremely likable lead, while Saldana uses her trademark femme fatale penchant to great use . However, it’s Cooper as the chatty and cheeky raccoon, Rocket, and Diesel as the human-tree, Groot, that steal the show, adding a whimsy rarely seen in modern comic-book film adaptations.
Without household comic-book names to inject a bit of weight into proceedings, this is a film that could have found itself in the annals of failed comic-book adaptations, alongside Marvel flops such as Daredevil, Elektra and Ghost Rider.
But, armed with a funky 70’s soundtrack, likable characters, a witty temperament and thrilling action, Guardians of the Galaxy has arrived at the perfect time for Marvel, who – despite huge box office earnings with Captain America, The Avengers et al – were in dire need of a fresh canvas.
Adapted from John Green’s 2012 bestselling novel of the same name, The Fault in our Stars - a formulaic but engagingly honest story of star-crossed lovers brought together by a mutual pain - will sadden, enrich and perhaps even comfort, many of those who come across its path.
The story is centred on the sixteen year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Woodley); a girl who has been battling with terminal thyroid cancer since the age of thirteen. After being one of the few to respond to an experimental drug treatment, her condition is now stable, though the side effects have weakened her lungs and she is now constantly attached to a portable oxygen tank.
Hazel has pretty much accepted the fact that her days are numbered but her parents, Frannie (Dern) and Michael (Trammell), are increasingly concerned for her emotional well-being and urge her to join a cancer support group for young cancer patients like herself; not wanting to stress her parents any further, Hazel soon agrees to go.
It’s there that she first meets Augustus Waters (Elgort); an optimistic osteosarcoma survivor who lost part of his leg due to the illness. He is now living cancer-free and only comes to the meetings to support his best-bud, Isaac (Wolff). Instantly intrigued by each other, Hazel and Augustus strike up a flirty friendship but Hazel - someone who views herself as a grenade and is set on protecting those around her from the blast when that day eventually comes - is reluctant to let Augustus in. But as their relationship slowly begins to inch towards romance, she soon sees that she really doesn’t have much say in the matter.
Woodley is absolutely enigmatic as the story’s cancer-stricken heroine and ends up infusing a great amount of likeability and authenticity into the role of a young girl asked to face her destiny much too soon, while Elgort shines as the witty and the incredibly charming young man who refuses to let the cruelty of life dampen his spirits.
The Fault in Our Stars is only the second feature-film for director Josh Boone – see 2012’s Stuck in Love - however, he executes the tricky adaptation like a veteran. Scripted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webert, the gravity of the material is handled wonderfully and there is a heavy dose of sincerity, humour and most important of all, heart, injected into the story’s sombre themes.
On the downside, its teenage-romance premise does get a little too cutesy in parts and the subplot, which involves a trip to Amsterdam, feels a little underdeveloped. Nevertheless, it’s the easy chemistry between its protagonists and its earnest approach makes The Fault in Our Stars a success and an ultimate real tear-jerker that won’t leave a dry eye in the house.