IMDb Plot Summary: A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience.
Revolution as change is never easy. It does not happen overnight. The societal foundation needs to be ripped apart so a new cornerstone can be set, which is an arduous and oftentimes extremely violent process. The most well known is America’s own Revolution, which lasted roughly 20 years and culminated in a bloody five-year war. But America’s lasting liberation is a historical outlier. Most are not nearly so successful.
Egypt is currently three years into its own revolution, with mixed results, and The Square strikingly captures the growing crusade from the ground floor. Things kick off in earnest in January 2011, when protestors take to Cairo’s Tahrir Square that leads to Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s resignation following a brutal 30-year reign. People weep in the streets. Cheers and smiles are everywhere. Yet few realize their struggle is only beginning.
The Muslim Brotherhood quickly steps in and fills the power vacuum, but little actually changes. They abuse power in much the same manner as before. Real democracy and freedom from oppression remain elusive, while people continue to be arrested and protestors shot at in the streets. This leads to another massive showing in Tahrir Square in the summer of 2013, bigger than before and one of the largest demonstrations in human history. President Mohamed Morsi is replaced by military rule, conditions remain dire, and the cycle continues.
Despite all the political upheaval and a constant state of chaos, The Square to its benefit remains relatively focused on three main characters amidst the Tahrir-related activities. The main voice is Ahmed Hassan, a twentysomething working-class man who is very passionate and optimistic about Egypt’s quest for social change. We also follow British-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla (The Kite Runner, United 93), an outspoken activist who gives interviews to U.S. news stations and posts YouTube videos chronicling what is happening. The final person is Magdy Ashour, a close friend of Hassan and member of the Muslim Brotherhood who is conflicted between supporting the cause and the questionable methods the Brotherhood employs.
Documentarian Jehane Noujaim, who was raised in Egypt but has lived in Boston since the ‘90s, masterfully constructs all this footage into a most harrowing and unforgettable experience. Immediately you are dropped right into what is happening on the street level, and it never lets go. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Many people put in years of hard work and risked their very livelihoods to get Egypt’s story more widely known on a global scale, and are to be commended for their efforts. The Square received the prestigious audience awards at both Sundance and Toronto, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, and is one of those rare films that needs to be seen by as many people as possible.
Certainly, Egyptian politics remains a very convoluted maze right now, with no clear end point in sight, and there’s no way for it to be effectively communicated or solved in a single two-hour film. It will probably be decades from now until the revolution itself can even be judged a success or failure. What The Square is invaluable at is providing a slice of insight into Egypt’s current state by matching human faces with what we’ve seen on the news. Tahrir comes to symbolize the very soul of Egypt and those fighting for it, and the film posits genuine hope the revolution’s initial dreams will one day be fulfilled. As Hassan beautifully closes, “We’re not looking for a leader as much as we’re looking for a conscience. What is a leader anyway? Are they going to offer solutions from the heavens? They won’t do that. The thing is, if we are able to create this conscience within the society, we’ll be able to find a good president. We are not looking for a leader to rule us. Because everyone who went to Tahrir is a leader. We are looking for a conscience.”
It’s no secret I have been looking forward to Gangster Squad for some time. It boasts a fantastic cast, with one of my favorite actors (Gosling) and actresses (Stone), while I’m a huge sucker for period gangster-noir films. L.A. Confidential and Chinatown are two of my all-time faves, and I was hoping Gangster Squad could be this decade’s updated version. But when the reviews began trickling in, they were less than kind, to say the least, and frankly I don’t quite understand why all the hate.
Yes, it’s derivate of several much greater films and unoriginal, but the same can be said for a good chunk of what Hollywood churns out these days. Plus, don’t forget back in the 30s there was a new gangster flick released literally every week, so originality isn’t exactly this genre’s forte. Gangster Squad has other issues as well. The bookend narration is terrible, the closing action set piece laughably nonsensical, it’s overly stylized and uses too much slowmo, and the script that was buzzed about for years is light on character depth and very pulpy. In hindsight, it makes sense why so many A-list directors passed it over before Ruben Fleisher, who has now used up most of the goodwill generated from his Zombieland debut, landed the gig.
Still, for all its faults, Gangster Squad remains a capable piece of entertainment. Fleisher did his best contribution by landing a near dream-list cast, and even though it’s far from their best stuff, it keeps things respectable and never dull. Even though, as previously mentioned, the story is entirely all too familiar, the majority of key ingredients are included and the marks hit at least somewhat accurately. It will never be mistaken for a classic, but for fans of the genre, it’s hard not to walk away at least halfway satisfied.
My interview with Jack's Mannequin is now up over here. Andrew McMahon gives the scoop on writing and recording Jack’s next record, the Something Corporate reunion and the latest with the Dear Jack Foundation.
Catch my interview with Sherwood over at Mammoth Press. Vocalist/bassist Nate Henry opens up about the origins of QU, the hardships that come with getting older, the depressing state of music today and the future of Sherwood.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.--Teddy Roosevelt
My interview with Jack's Mannequin has finally been posted on MammothPress.com. Frontman Andrew McMahon goes into detail about the making of The Glass Passenger, as well as touching on his cancer experience, the Dear Jack documentary, his beginnings as a musician and the future of Something Corporate.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
The Story: When news of the death of Princess Diana breaks upon a shocked and disbelieving British public, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) retreats behind the walls of Balmoral Castle with her family, unable to comprehend the public response to the tragedy. For Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the popular and newly elected Prime Minister, the people's need for reassurance and support from their leaders is unmistakable. As the unprecedented outpouring of emotion grows stronger, Blair must find a way to reconnect the Queen with the British public.
The Good: The movie is an intriguing look at what goes on behind the scenes in the Royal Family. This is an area I don't have much familiarity with (I can now only vaguely recall Diana's death), which made it all the more interesting. The film is essentially a character study of how the Queen and Tony Blair deal with Diana's death and the public’s response to it, and the actors' mesmerizing performances make up its backbone. Helen Mirren is a lock for a Best Actress nomination, shining in a somewhat subdued performance of someone trying to cling to their tradition when forced to deal with a culture of change. Michael Sheen, whom I have become a fan of after seeing him in Underworld and Kingdom Of Heaven, gives his best performance yet as a man who rises to power and handles it with a grace and humbleness not often seen today in the world of politics. His role will probably be overlooked by others in higher profile pictures, but his portrayal is just as important to the movie's success as that of Mirren's.
The Bad: Nothing major. I thought the movie relied a little too much on actual news coverage. While this did add a grounded sense of reality to the film, it seemed to be overused in a couple of places. I also felt that the subplot involving the stag wasn’t as effective as it thought it was or could have been.
The Verdict: Stephen Frears, who directed one of my favorite romantic dramas of all time, High Fidelity, has crafted another winner. Sure to receive much attention come awards time, The Queen is a fascinating study of a leader caught at a time of personal crossroads. Definitely check it out.