Rosewater

Release: Friday, November 14, 2014 (limited)

[Redbox]

Written by: Jon Stewart

Directed by: Jon Stewart

Rosewater may be watered-down in the drama department, but then that’s missing the point that Jon Stewart already seems to be blossoming from satirical news show host into a feature film maker with serious potential.

You won’t find many (if any) of Stewart’s signature snide remarks in this cinematic adaptation of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari’s memoir Then They Came for Me. Distilling the essence of that account into a rather harrowing hour and forty minutes couldn’t have been any small task, yet Stewart adapts with confidence Bahari’s being detained and brutal interrogation at the hands of Iranian authorities for 118 days — a kind of confidence that seems a natural extension of his ability to look a camera dead-on and resist the urge to crack wise whenever it was appropriate.

This somber account isn’t in the conversation of award-winning biopics, but Stewart’s dedication to exploring a serious, often potent subject matter is impressive regardless. Rosewater is earnest yet it never becomes powerful enough to arouse emotional responses; lenses dedicated to reflecting the tension that continues to define American and Middle Eastern relations have a more journalistic presence rather than anything that feels truly cinematic. But perhaps it’s a credit to the filmmakers that the final product never could be described as bombastic or self-serving.

Performances from Gael García Bernal and Kim Bodnia enrich the film with paranoia and distrust but it’s really how Stewart puts together an empathetic portrait of human beings being lodged in between a rock and a hard place. Bodnia’s Javadi (a.k.a. Rosewater), though clearly an unlikable and hostile man, is shaded with a humanity that saves him from one-note villainy. We witness the perpetual berating and detaining of the journalist as a function of Javadi taking orders from his higher ups. We notice these 118 days take a toll on him, though nothing like what they do to his prisoner. And clearly there are fundamental ideological differences that assure neither party are ever going to see eye-to-eye, but during the course of Rosewater‘s extensive imprisonment scenes we glimpse at a more disturbing reality: there’s an unsettling sameness about the extremist beliefs of Javadi and Maziar’s commitment to maintaining his innocence.

In one stand-out scene toward the end, far past the point where the blindfold Maziar must wear at all times signifies little more than an asinine Evin Prison regulation, Stewart beautifully displays how one triumphs over the other, and though it’s no spoiler to suggest which one does win out, the denouement finds The Daily Show host announcing that he has plans beyond sitting behind that desk, reading and analyzing ridiculous headlines. This is the film at its most optimistic and moving.

Rosewater doesn’t try to be a damning political statement. It’s about a man’s journey through psychological (and often physical) abuse and torment. For us, the torment is knowing how close Maziar is to freedom. His words carry truth but they aren’t worth listening to as far as Javadi and his higher-ups are concerned. To them, the journalist’s so-called treasonous acts speak for themselves. To them he’s a symbol of an uprising those in power couldn’t hope to suppress if enough of them spread across the land. The documentation of the violent reactions of citizens following the presidential election of 2009 isn’t an innocent act; it could galvanize the oppressed into action against a righteous government. Such ignorance is the hardest pill to swallow.

Rosewater reflects honestly upon a crisis situation that hardly feels sensationalized. Stewart demonstrates a knack for showing compassion towards his fellow man, even the ones we ought to loathe completely. Of course he’s never telling us to root for the bad guys, and he’s not exactly deterring anyone from celebrating the good ones outright. In his debut film Stewart is reminding us that every common human experience is tinted by some shade of gray. Some grays are certainly darker than others.

Recommendation: Jon Stewart has created a bit of cinema that has potential to be more powerful, but there are marks of a new talent present all throughout. Rosewater is politically-charged, but its surprisingly restrained in that regard and more often than not doesn’t lean too heavily one way or another. It’s a film worth checking out for anyone curious to take a glimpse at Stewart’s possible post-Daily Show career. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “There are certain situations, that if you film them, won’t do your friends or the movement any good.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Big Daddy (1999)

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May is moving on with or without me, and now that I’ve committed to doing Adam Sandler movies this month, I kind of can’t wait for it to be over so I don’t have to be responsible for these posts anymore. I already know several people who question me. I want to make it up to them. I can maybe make them some real shortbread pie or something, and maybe send it to them? Eric, how expensive was shipping and handling on your Shitfest trophies??? Anyway, yes, indeed the month and the theme continues onward, to my third favorite of his old little shitty-ography.  

Today’s food for thought: Big Daddy

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Release: June 25, 1999

[DVD]

Big Daddy marks the third of a triumvirate of decent Sandler comedies from the mid-to-late ’90s that, while earning a certain reputation through the collective opinion of mainstream critics, managed to garner a significant fanbase for Sandler. This film is the last one he would do before starting up his own production company, Happy Madison Productions. Yes, that ever-reliable entity we can all thank for churning out garbage on a very frequent basis starring Adam Sandler and friends hogging a camera in a backyard for 90 minutes at a time.

This film is — surprise, surprise — not a far cry from its scatological cousins, Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison (not to mention a smattering of other, lesser offensive outings later on down the pike) who enjoyed making fun of the elderly, the homeless, the funny-looking. . .and women. The whole goal of being in an Adam Sandler movie was that you can act like a dick and get paid. This is my underlying theory of how they are able to keep cranking out true stinkers one after another in today’s market, anyway. It makes a lot of sense. Movies can be made quickly and cheaply when there is a 10-page script, most of the pages of which contain 80% choice language and made-up words.

The Big Daddy iteration of Sandler’s shtick concerns a 32-year-old unmotivated tollbooth operator finding himself in a limbo between growing up and facing being alone because of his stubborn ways. All around him his friends are getting ahead in life by proposing to long-time girlfriends and getting relocated to China for positions in law firms. Sonny himself has a law degree but hasn’t found the will to study and pass the bar exam and get his act fully together. However, an opportunity to do so presents itself when young Julian (played by twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse) appears on his trodden doorstep.

While Sonny’s initially reluctant to take on any more responsibility than the current crap-ton that he has, he finds himself becoming close with Julian and even enjoys acting like a role model for the kid, even if at times he’s a questionable one. Unfortunately it is later discovered by a Social Services worker that Julian was meant to be in the care of his biological father, Sonny’s roommate and friend and that Sonny’s extensive caretaking has been a complete circumvention of the law. He faces kidnapping and fraud charges.

I’m sure there are a few life lessons to be found somewhere in this comedy, let’s see what we can find, shall we:

  1. bigd25

    You should learn to smile more, for you have Jon Stewart for a father. Granted, there was that little issue of him jetting off to China for years to become a successful lawyer while never knowing you existed, but these things happen. You must learn that not even Jon Stewart is perfect.

  2. fhd999BDD_Kristy_Swanson_009

    Life is all about experience. I’ll just leave it at that.

  3. ijYwM2_large

    “The Birds and the Bees” discussion can never be held too early. Of course, this conversation can go into greater detail if put off until later. Then again, if you put this off til too much later, . . ah crap. That’s a real catch-22.

  4. fhd999BDD_Rob_Schneider_005

    Life requires you be patient. Not everything will fall completely into place at first. But you might find things coming together a bit quicker if you upgrade your vocabulary beyond that of a fifth grader. Don’t worry, though. No one in the real world actually judges you if you can’t spell ‘hippopotamus.’

  5. bigdaddy27

    Birthday parties are life’s little way of showing you a progress bar on the side of your Life Screen. Where you hold your parties, who hosts them for you and who attends them says a lot about who, what and where you are in your own life. Go on, enjoy it. Even if it’s at a strip joint. Or excuse me, a Hooters.

3-0Recommendation: Big Daddy is  . . .well, it’s Big Daddy. It’s neither the finest of Sandler’s offerings (a relative term for many people, this I do understand) but it’s far removed from the worst of his current drivel. Sandwiched comfortably among Sandler’s more memorable outings, this story benefits greatly from strong chemistry between it’s foul-mouthed lead and a pair of charming little twins who this reviewer still cannot tell apart. It falls into the same grooves as all Sandler’s creations do but manages to remain an enjoyable and surprisingly heartwarming raunch-fest that naturally belongs in the discussion of the man’s better contributions to the comedy of the 90s.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Fish! Pony! Hip, hip hop, hip hop anonymous? Damn you! You gave him the easy ones.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: google images