Little Nikita (1988)

Initially, this didn’t impress me, aside from a riveting car chase. I expected more tech(nology/nique); the Mission Impossible franchise set my expectations higher than I dared to admit. However, I was struck by the emotional component we civilians rarely think about– sleeper spies need family and friends just the same as anyone else. Still, I […]

Dave (1993)

There have been brief periods when movies were made strictly for entertainment; you weren’t forced to choose between getting hit over the head with an agenda and indulging an experimental hobby project. Who better to give a chance to showcase their range than Kevin Kline?

A small-town professor moonlighting as a POTUS impersonator faces the mother of moral dilemmas when he agrees to stand in for the real—and comatose—Chief of Staff to avoid wide-spread panic. He later realizes how much power and influence everyone around him wields when he tries to avoid getting tangled in the strings of the political puppet masters, who hired him.

Cameos galore (primarily political figures) are the sprinkles atop a sturdy sundae of seasoned actors, who portray earnest characters out of their element finding their way to a heartwarming crescendo.

The Pirates of Somalia (2017)

The title* of a book by (then still) wannabe journalist, Jay Bahadur, who planned to write an exposé based on a land he grew to love almost as much as his own. Most coming-of-age stories center around a young man’s sexual encounter with a seemingly exotic native from the country to which he has either been forced to travel or to where he escapes from stifling responsibilities. This film depicts a naively brave visit to a place few journalists dared to go at the time.   *“Deadly Waters” in UK/ Australia

Part of its charm is how the casting in no way caters to Hollywood’s distorted racial sensibilities by either rewriting the story to make Jay’s parents’ mixed-race marriage a Caucasian union or by hiring an unconvincing vaguely ethnic actor, who bears no resemblance to real-life, Jay Bahadur. Rather, the family dynamic is believable but casually presented as fact since it has no bearing on the plot. Another component of its charm is in capturing affection, both in actors’ natural chemistry and characters’ scripted interaction. Pay close attention, filmmakers; this is how it’s done. That it intrinsically avoids heavy-handed themes, canned/ preachy dialogue, contrived metaphors and overblown juxtapositions makes this film feel like a blast of fresh air on a steamy day in the desert.

I would be remiss to leave out any mention of countless profanities and blatant drug use that makes this unsuitable for classroom viewing and discussion. However, where home viewing is concerned, realism is lost the moment the camera flinches. Moreover, the goal is sympathy and consideration rather than pity, and certainly not stereotypes. To that end, many striking parallels can be made drawn between African Pirates and North American rappers. At the end of the day, Human Beings are more like than different, which should make international diplomatic relations less convoluted than they tend to be.

Mr. Bahadur returned home right before cargo ship, MV Maersk Alabama was taken hostage by the pirates about whom he wrote. This incident stimulated interest in his book, which took longer than expected to get published. But people soon realized his research challenged inaccurate perceptions about the pirates and their motives. Incidentally, trivia fans will appreciate how movie Jay’s host-turned-friend, who guides him through Somalia is the same actor, who portrayed the lead pirate of the aforementioned hijacking as portrayed in the 2013 movie “Captain Phillips.”

Across the Universe (2007)

Though the title borrows the more popular lyric/ song title, this film could’ve been aptly named “Nothing’s Gonna Change my World”; the irony being the massive upending of life as everyone knew it prior to the turbulent 1960s. To craft a plot from a collection of music not written as a cohesive narrative is tricky enough; to seamlessly infuse the playlist with a personification of the music and events that equally influenced and inspired each other is a true work of Art. The inclusion of live musical performance, choreography, imaginative cinematography, depiction of history and socio-political commentary take this mesmerizing spectacle way beyond a Beatles-inspired musical.

The Pelican Brief (1993)

It isn’t easy to base a movie on a John Grisham book without losing the suspense. Or maybe it is? Upon rediscovery of this legal/ political thriller, I contend it still holds up. Exhibit A: conspiracies. Exhibit B: the many faces of Stanley Tucci. Exhibit C: Denzel Washington. Exhibit D: Julia Roberts. Exhibit E: so many stars before they were super famous (including but nowhere limited to aide to the Prez, who went on to play POTUS and homely neighbor turned glam “Sex and The City” gal pal).

Arlington Road (1999)

The eerily plausible premise of this political thriller plants a tenacious seed of doubt about every “lone gunman” type of conspiracy theory since the assassination of JFK. Who’s to say seemingly random acts of terrorism aren’t at least heavily influenced by unseen players in the game we never seem to know we’re playing until we’ve lost?