The Hit (Frears, 1984, 6.0)
Frears’s conception of each scene is immaculate; The Hit makes the best of the smallest changes in framing or otherwise unimportant sound cues to create tension and affect mood. Yet, the overall arc of the film is rather unexciting and the progression of the plot is so deliberately slow, it’s impossible to check the watch every now and then.
Paternal House (Ayari, 2015, 7.4)
One of the most compelling films to come out of mainstream Iranian cinema in recent years. I felt more mixed after the second viewing but later discussing the film for the Hello Cinema podcast, I felt I liked it more. This is problematic film, both structurally the repetitions in storytelling pattern can be felt, though it’s never boring and tonally the eccentric humor, a trademark of Ayari’s cinema, isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t for every minute in this otherwise brutal, crushing film. Nevertheless, this is essential stuff.
Inside Out (Docter, 2015, 7.5)
Certainly Pixar’s best film since Brave, an entertaining, thoughtful experience that continues Pete Docter’s fascination with children’s mental development. Deceptively simplistic in presentation and scope, but more though-provoking the more I live with the film.
The Algerian (Zelko, 2015, 0.5) (link to review)
“The Algerian is not offensive because it doesn’t abide by rules of political correctness, but because of its sheer incompetence on every level. This is a film in which story and plot are both mistaken for relentless exposition; political nuance is forgone in favour of the simple rule of thumb that America is superior to the rest of the world; the ambiguity of race and gender relations convey the filmmaker’s misunderstanding of both; and performances are delivered with all the grace and poise of a corporate sexual harassment video. It is hard to encounter a film that lacks even a single redeeming quality; that The Algerian achieves that is probably its biggest accomplishment.”
Paternal House (Ayari, 2015, 7.6)
The film’s episodic structure suffers from the sheer force of the opening chapter; it is virtually impossible to keep the tension and power of this violently brilliant start. One of the most compelling and strident films about women’s rights in Iran in recent years hence the lengthy ban on the film’s public release in its home country; the film was produced in 2010 and only released for two days this year and a film that, despite its several limitations, is essential and merits discussion (and repeat viewings).
To Be or Not to Be (Ayari, 1998, 8.3)
Not a particularly adventurous film on a formal level though particular scenes in the film would beg to differ but an emotional tour de force. One of those films that pull moments of magic out of seemingly nothing, in small conversations, in a single glance, or in the way a character utters a specific line, or in tender moments of normal, genuine human interaction. To Be or Not to Be‘s story of two young women looking for a heart transplant from a brain-dead man studies small tensions between people of different ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds and the human spirit that rises above it all.
Wet Hot American Summer (Wain, 2001, 8.4)
Although the film has mostly achieved cult status because of the future careers of its stars, and remains somewhat inconsistent on repeat visits, its highs are so far above the clouds that the lows can be forgiven. Paul Rudd’s performance brimming with Falconetti-level iconic facial expressions is the highlight of a film which also includes one of the best comic line readings of all time: “Can you get me some lube? For my pussy.”
Jurassic World (Trevorrow, 2015, 3.6)
The lowest common denominator of Hollywood blockbusters. For a film based on a narrative about nostalgia, about people’s interest in mechanical and old-school charms, it’s frustrating how completely the computer generated animation sucks the soul out of the spectacle. This is a film of incomprehensible storytelling and stylistic choices, with no emotional justification for its chaotic, noisy narrative propulsion.
The Face of an Angel (Winterbottom, 2015, 3.9) (link to review)
“A fictionalized account of Amanda Knox’s story, the film is contrived, confusing, and, despite dense plotting, severely lacking in emotional or thematic depth.”
The Bull’s Horn (Ayari, 1995, 5.9)
Adapted from Erich Kastner’s “Emil and the Detectives,” Ayari’s children’s film is indicative of the range of his thematic interests and his capabilities as a director. Yet, given the topic children banding together to retrieve money a thief stole from one of them The Bull’s Horn is neither entertaining nor exciting enough for the first two thirds of the film. The finale, however, is both touching and engaging.
Abadani-ha (Ayari, 1994, 6.7)
Ayari’s faithful remake of The Bicycle Thieves, relocated to war-time Tehran, is a competently made, keenly studied and emotionally powerful experience, but falls short at every turn in comparison to its predecessor. Still, De Sica’s film is one of the greatest films ever made, so the comparison isn’t exactly a fair one.
Two Halves of an Apple (Ayari, 1992, 4.2)
Two Halves of an Apple tells the story of twin sisters, long lost, who find each other and decide to swap places for a few days at a critical juncture in both their lives. Ayari’s execution of this intriguing though somewhat cliched story is rather heavy-handed, with socio-political allegories confusingly forced in. Although there are individual moments of excellence in the film such as the wordless flashback sequence in which the two sisters’ family history is told the film as a whole is undermined by the shrill acting of the two actresses who did not go on to have careers beyond this film. It’s all the more disheartening for the fact that my mother and aunt were approached on the street by Kianoush Ayari to play the lead roles. No, really!
Beyond the Fire (Ayari, 1990, 8.5)
The absurd and raucous finale of this film, set to Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube, is its most memorably enduring moment, but it shouldn’t overshadow everything that comes before it. The barren deserts of the Iranian southwest, and the architecture of fiery oil rigs have provided visual spectacles for several Iranian directors across the decades, from Ebrahim Golestan to Amir Naderi; Ayari’s film is one of the most astonishing inclusions in that company. Making the best of the region’s minimalist architecture, and the juxtaposition between the rapidly developing oil industry and the wretched infrastructure of poverty and destitution, Ayari’s visual language highlights social and personal tensions more than any words could. This is a film for the ages, and one that I only wish I had the opportunity to see on the big screen at some point.
Spy (Feig, 2015, 7.0)
Restlessly hilarious, and that seems to be about the film’s only aim, which it achieves quite comfortably. Feig and McCarthy have a perfect understanding of each other’s gifts and expectations, creating a chemistry that has so far resulted in a three slam dunk successes. The real star of this all-star show, though, is Rose Byrne. Her comic gifts, subtler than her co-stars here, are paralleled by no one in Hollywood today.
The Grand Day (Ayari, 1989, 5.9)
Ayari’s spoof of the Shah’s incompetence in dealing with rural problems isn’t the brave proposition it would have been had it been made before the Iranian Revolution. It isn’t consistently funny, either. The visual language is interesting, however, both because of comic coding the costumes and signifiers that mark government agents and political coding the first and last scenes of the film are poignant mirror images that concisely captures the reasons for the monarchy’s fall. Alireza Khamseh’s physical attributes, as is often the case with him, give the film a lot of comic mileage.
Spectre of Scorpion (Ayari, 1986, 4.4)
Ayari has made one of the more innovative entries in the vast collection of films about the difficulties of working in Iranian cinema. Ironically, for a film about a director whose main preoccupation is with producing “naturalistic” atmospheres, Spectre of Scorpion is contrived and over the top. The heist around which the film pivots beggars belief and the intensity of the film-making evident both in the highly angular cinematography and the heightened energy of the performances leave much to be desired. The finale is incongruously superb.
Dust Devil (Ayari, 1985, 5.8)
Produced during the years of war between Iran and Iraq, following the Iranian Revolution, Dust Devil is a product of the highly politicized cultural environment of the time. Paradoxically, the film is both naturalistic in its depiction of rough and dry terrain of Iranian deserts and symbolic in conveying the ideological warfare of the era. It is telling that the resource over which the character fight is not oil, artillery or money, but water, symbolizing the very livelihood that was at stake in the tumultuous atmosphere of war time Iran. The metaphors eventually become overbearing, but as a debut film, this is very promising.