Connect with us

Movies News

‘Jihad Rehab’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

Published

on

‘Jihad Rehab’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

“The terrorists who declared war on America represent no nation. They defend no territory. And they wear no uniform,” is how George W. Bush described the men who were illegally detained, and subject to abuse and torture, in Guantanamo Bay after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. At its height, the prison, known as Camp X-Ray, held nearly 800 detainees, with 39 remaining there today. The rest of them — barring those who didn’t survive — were repatriated back to their homelands starting in 2005, around the time Bush’s war on terror began to wind down.

This was the case for all prisoners except those from Yemen, who were refused release but found themselves on a curious path to freedom when Prince Muhammad bin Nayef of Saudia Arabia welcomed them to a rehabilitation center he built in Riyadh. Partaking in a 12-month program that included classes about religion, morality and how to become good Muslim husbands, the bulk of former terrorists who went through “jihad rehab” seemed to have made it out successfully. (A few of them faked their way through therapy and immediately rejoined Al-Qaeda afterwards.)

Jihad Rehab

The Bottom Line

A compelling look at lives lost and redeemed.

Advertisement

Granted full access to the facility and the chance to follow three detainees on their paths toward a new life, filmmaker Megan Smaker gives viewers the rare chance to get up close and personal with the men of no nation, territory or uniform that President Bush kept locked up for so long. What she discovers offers insights into who these men really are, why some of them did what they did (although motives can remain vague or unspoken) and what rehabilitation really means for those who live through it.

A former firefighter who resided in Yemen and speaks Arabic, Smaker convinced the detainees to tell her their stories — or rather the parts they chose to tell — during their 12-month stays at the Mohammed bin Nayef Counseling and Care Center, as it’s officially called. The men have a lot in common: they’re all Yemenite, joined Al-Qaeda when they were in their teens or 20s and spent roughly 15 years in Guantanamo.

But they also have distinct personalities: Nadir was Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguard (“When the plane hit, I couldn’t see what the problem was,” is how he describes his initial reaction to 9/11) and now wants to lead a normal life; Ali unwittingly joined the jihad as the 15-year old brother of Qasim al-Raymi, who would become the emir of AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula) and was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2020; and Mohamed is a soft-spoken arms specialist who claims innocence at first, then is more open about his activities, but finds himself troubled by life on the outside.

Shot over several years, the documentary trails the three men, who become fast friends at the facility, through the long process of rehabilitation and release. If there’s one lesson to cull from their collective experiences, it’s that they were all more or less kids when they first signed up for the jihad and thus not fully aware of the consequences. They hated America’s interventions in the Middle East, wanted to support their fellow Muslims in Bosnia, and naively saw joining Al-Qaeda as the kind of adventure you undertake when you’re young and a bit unwise.

Advertisement

This doesn’t excuse their actions, but it explains why, when they find themselves in rehab as fully grown adults, it’s as if they’re learning how to live normally for the first time. The Center teaches them basic skills, like how to apply for a job, but it also introduces Freudian psychology, art therapy and what many would consider to be a backwards view on how to sustain a healthy marriage, courtesy of Saudi specialists.

The facilities, which include a swimming pool and gym, are comfortable and clean, and as the ex-jihadi get closer to release it looks like they may manage to thrive as civilians. But then a political coup transfers power into the hands of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who’s less tolerant of terrorists and political dissidents — they seem to be the same thing for him — leaving Nadir, Ali and Mohamed in a state of limbo where they can’t move abroad and can’t be legally employed, even if two of them find wives.

Smaker gets familiar enough with her subjects to show how frustrated they are by the bureaucratic void and how damaged they are by their extended stays at Gitmo, which seems to have broken them in ways that can never totally be fixed. In that sense, Jihad Rehab is not unlike your classic prison flick where life on the outside proves to be tougher than life behind bars, and the way the men try, and often fail, to make it work in the free market dictatorship of Saudi Arabia is heartbreaking to witness.

The film has its drawbacks, like a busy score that adds false dramatic notes, animation sequences that are well-composed but feel like accouterments, and cheesy cinematic ideas like pigeons taking off in slow-motion, which is a rather heavy metaphor for burgeoning freedom. All of these seem unnecessary in light of the harsh realities Smaker manages to capture, and she’s probably less of a born director than she is a thoughtful and persistent interrogator, getting her subjects to bare themselves in front of the camera in ways they would never have done beforehand.

Their participation in Jihad Rehab was hopefully a form of rehab for them as well, although by the time the film ends, it’s uncertain whether these “enemy combatants” — a term devised by the U.S. government to avoid treating them like regular prisoners of war — will ever shake off the taint of their previous lives or the trauma of their long incarcerations. Perhaps at best, their experiences will serve as a valuable testament to the post-9/11 period many of us lived through, some much more painfully than others.

Advertisement

Movies News

Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Published

on

By

Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

Advertisement

The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

Advertisement

Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Movies News

Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

Published

on

By

According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

Advertisement

To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

Continue Reading

Movies News

Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

Published

on

By

Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

Advertisement

Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

Continue Reading

Trending