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Friday, September 29, 2006

To See or Not To See: The Beauty Academy of Kabul

"Palawasha, beauty school student, on graduation day"

By Jan Stetter

If you blinked you may have missed this documentary. The Beauty Academy of Kabul briefly premiered at The Mariemont theatre. It will be worth your time when it comes to DVD.

The documentary is about the efforts of several women worlds away from Afghanistan who influence a generation their counterparts. Those counterparts have lived lives of repression and countless indignities.

Amongst the aftermath of living under unimaginable social constraints for years, a group of Afghan women in the city of Kabul are offered an opportunity. This opportunity presents itself as a chance to be educated in all the new techniques and styles of beauty, massage therapy, hair cuts, and makeup of today. Several women from America and England volunteered to teach these women the current trends in beauty management. What they gave in instruction surpassed their objectives of dispensing knowledge; these women offered hope and confidence. Working under a tag team approach, a shoestring budget, and within a culture of political distrust, these women triumphed. They transcended the language and cultural barriers to be able to embrace their differences and offer dignity and value.

The Beauty Academy of Kabul is a documentary offering an intimate expose of the lives and times of women in Afghanistan in the 21st century. In particular this film tells the story of the women who lived through the uncompromising command of the Taliban and its dictates enforced upon them. This film actually begins in the present and offers a story of bringing Afghan women into the 21 century through a common bond: beauty.

Surprisingly this film is not depressing or heavy handed in showing the circumscribed life of these people. In fact, in director Liz Mermin’s competent hands, this is a film about hope, about fortitude and about the strength of the human spirit. Mermin’s choice of profiles and cultural narratives exemplify the tenacity of the females in the tiny town of Kabul—worlds away from our civilized western freedom.

Expect to see a documentary of a rich true story of struggle, survival, kindred spirits and strength in adversity by all of the women involved. A spirit of optimism, of patient acquiescence, of fortitude and surrendering to circumstances prevails; with the hope of change and the dream of a new generation for the future of women and their children in Kabul.

Having trouble making decisions about whether a movie is worth it? "To See or Not To See" reviews movies each week on Monday. Contact jans@queencityforum.com

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Last Kiss

Till Death Do They Part

By Jan Stetter

What was the significance of the title of the movie, The Last Kiss? The Kiss of Death? The Last Kiss of Freedom? People making commitments and then “Kissing their lives away” because entering into the institution of marriage is a sentence of downhill drudgery? Think again. In fact, go to this movie to see for yourself if it presented a biased view of the downfall of rendering one’s life freely to another.

The Last Kiss is a film where the lead character and girlfriend have been together for three years. Life and love is good. Circumstances force them to consider the next step of their relationship. Then a showcase of clichéd stereotypical couples fills the interim of this movie.

The Last Kiss is another benchmark in Zach Braff’s film career. It also was Rachel Bilson’s film debut. There are no problems with the charming Zach Braff playing the cad protagonist. He does his job very well. And Rachel Bilson as the younger temptress is believable. Jacinda Barrett as the spurned lover is painfully convincing. Women would most certainly empathize with her character.

Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson are the seasoned actors who represent the “standard, boring, sexless” characterization of a dead marriage. How unfortunate in this movie that for all its effort in telling a story about choices and commitments, it failed to balance or even validate that there do, in fact, exist some real life “standard, still -copulating-and-enjoying-it, monogamous” vibrant marriages.

Rachel Bilson’s character points out that “Marriage as an institution was formed when the expected life span for an adult was thirty years.” Okay, its common knowledge that marriages often outlive the zest, the desire, the commitment it takes to keep it fresh and engaging. We get that marriage is supposed to be forever and forever can be a looooooong time if spent with someone who has given up on the other person or perhaps even themselves.

Yet if a movie is going to invite us to think about those human fears and dilemmas that force us to be frail, to be vulnerable; shouldn’t it at the very least offer one example of a successful union?

Let’s not confuse the issue here. Or make this a commentary on the pros and cons of marriage. Marriage and commitment are hard. People make choices every day as to whether they will recommit anew or settle for complacency or chuck it all together.

The title The Last Kiss in this movie refers to Braff’s one last chance at spontaneity and excitement before he makes a lifelong commitment. Why can’t there still be spontaneity and excitement in a long term relationship? How sad for Braff’s character to think that there is only one last kiss left and the rest of life is so predictable.

P.S. For movie enthusiasts: Check out the film on video A Sure Thing. It is one of John Cusack’s early movies. His character also faces decisions about relationships—and listen how he decides what to do.

Having trouble making decisions about whether a movie is worth it? "To See or Not To See" reviews movies each week on Monday. Contact jans@queencityforum.com

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

To See Or Not To See: The Wicker Man

Don’t waste your time.

By Jan Stetter

The Wicker Man is a remake of a 1975 British film starring Edward Woodward. This version stars Nicholas Cage.

One can only ask the question: Why? Why did he do it? Why did he risk everything he has worked for to be thrown away by one poor choice?

No, I’m not talking about Cages’ character pursuing a little girl who may have been abducted. Nor am I talking about said character playing a sheriff who is contacted by his former lover who jilted him ten years before. And I am certainly not talking about the implausible storyline taking place on an obscure undocumented island inhabited by a community of female Walking She Zombies.

Why? Why did Nicholas Cage agree to play the lead character in this pitiful offering suggested as entertainment? Nicholas Cage has established his versatility in his craft. He had pitch perfect timing as a comedic actor in Lost in Paradise and Moonstruck. In Family Man he shows his ability to play average Joe American. In Face/Off he showed his creepy side. In ConAir he flexed his muscles. In The Wicker Man he shows his stupidity. Halfway through the movie the thought occurred that perhaps Cage is actually delusional; the same as all the characters in this movie. Because the film lacked credibility,Cage’s performance lacked credibility as well.

What is surprising is that Cage is joined by a very credible cast of actresses who spend the entire movie piecing together a ludicrous story. Leelee Sobieski, Diane Delano and Frances Conroy play loyal members of a unique sisterhood. Ellyn Bernstein plays the head mistress of followers who conspire to create a community of female dominance where men’s value is merely for grunt work and procreation.

Even that premise would have been interesting to explore. Imagine a society where men are viewed as baby maker objects and looked upon as unable to make high ranking decisions for the good of all. That possibility offered a glimmer of hope for this movie; a redeeming value. Alas that too, was fleeting as the potential to tell a thought provoking story never got off the ground.

Misguided searches and ominous dream sequences repeatedly filled the moments of bondage that kept me in my seat to see where this movie was going. It did not serve to frighten the movie goer, but to prolong the tedium of this film.

Having trouble making decisions about whether a movie is worth it? "To See or Not To See" reviews movies each week on Monday. Contact jans@queencityforum.com