Review: West Bank Story

West Bank Story is short film with a big message. Leveraging on his ability to make an audience laugh, director Ari Sandel makes reference to the cultural and political differences between Israelis and Palestinians in a comedic and entirely “Hollywood” way.

This Oscar-winning short has all the elements of a great Hollywood film: rivalry, spectacle and of course, a love story. The hilarity of the tale stems from the adversary between two restaurants, the Hummus Hut and the Kosher King. The overarching theme of tension and dispute makes way for a very Romeo & Juliet style love story between Fatima, a Palestinian Hummus Hut worker and David, an Israeli soldier. They are culturally destined to be apart but that won’t stop their love affair!

Sandel’s method of using over the top stereotypes to get a political message across while still making an audience laugh is one to be sought after. I can’t recall another film or story that has entertained me on such a humourous level while calling out Westerners on the corrupt outlook we have on cultures different than our own. It takes a brave person to poke fun at cultural stereotypes – something that is often a touchy subject for those that are the focus.

Using food as the foundation of the plot is a genius move on Sandel’s part. If there is one thing people around the world share, it is often a knowledge and appreciation of different types of food. Audiences can grab on to the idea of the Hummus Hut and the Kosher King in order to understand the film’s larger, political message. They make this story easier to digest and give audiences a base to spread the political innuendo on top of.

If you like to be entertained, you should watch this film. If you like to laugh (at yourself), then again, you should watch this film. The mash-up of politics, love and food make for one appetizing treat.

Watch the full short film here:



Coasts – “Oceans”

I recently came across this song and it has since graced my ears at least once a day.

The sound is really upbeat, but not over the top. It’s a great way to keep my mood positive while being smothered with schoolwork. The music video is nothing special, but that’s okay.

Be sure to have a listen to Coasts single “Oceans” here:

Review: No One Knows About Persian Cats

No One Knows About Persian Cats is a film everyone needs to see to get the idea that certain music is only found in certain places out of their head. It’s semi-documentary style of filming makes you feel like a fly on the wall, looking into the lives of those who live with bravery amidst a city built on fear.

Bahman Ghobadi pushes the limits with a controversial film that follows the journey of Negar and Ashkan, two musicians who love Western music genres. Having recently left jail for committing crimes against their country – that is, playing indie music – they instantly continue to create the tunes they love and search for bandmates to join them. Negar and Ashkan’s main objective is to go play a show overseas in London as a legitimate ensemble. See their story unfold while gaining a deeper understanding of Iran, its culture and its people. Did I mention Ghobadi filmed No One Knows About Persian Cats in only 17 days?

Funny enough, the two parts of the film that stuck out to me relate back to the title. The first instance is when Negar, Ashkan and a few others meet up to discuss forming a band and they’re playing with kittens. They explain that the kittens were brought in to comfort the mother cat after she had an accident and lost her own kittens. This was a very “aww” moment – for me at least. The second was when a police officer forced Negar and Ashkan to hand over a dog they had in their car, echoing the illegality of having a “dirty” animal outside, as the officer described it. Does talking about lovable animals entice you go to watch this on your own? If not, don’t worry, because there is so much to it. If you are a music lover, prepare to be amazed by the vast array of talent that is woven throughout the streets of Tehran and showcased on screen. You will definitely gain an appreciation for different cultures and how they approach such an international pastime like making music.

I walked away from this film feeling sad, enlightened, and cultured. Sad because of the restrictions some countries put on their citizens enjoying what they love. Enlightened because of the real and pure talent featured in this piece. Cultured because I learned more about Iran as a country, their ideals, and it deepened by understanding of the people who reside there. This film falls into the category of one that “everyone should be exposed but very limited numbers actually are”, and that disappoints me. So, if you have a few hours to spare, I suggest you take the time to watch No One Knows About Persian Cats and learn something new about a different place.

Review: City of God

Greens, guns, girls and getting even. Nothing seems more important to the young men of the slums in Rio de Janerio than these four things. Territory is everything in that place and they’ll be damn sure to let you know it.

The film’s title comes from the location we are submerged in – the City of God. These slums are bursting with culture with every corner you turn in their brick maze. We follow Li’l Ze’s journey of turning from action seeking boy into power hungry man. Much of the controversy revolves around him as people come in and out of his gang. Moving away from this drug lord, audiences are invited to connect with more wholesome characters like Rocket, an aspiring photographer who views the slums through his camera lens in a unique way. Li’l Ze, Rocket and all the other characters you will come across influence one another as they grow up through the tribulations they face in City of God.

Although the plot is focused on Li’l Ze and his business the film’s message is truly centered on Rocket. His passion for photography carries the plot through moments of beauty and grace but also violence and death. With a true artist’s eye, whether the subject matter is positive or negative, the photos come out as a beautiful pieces of work. As Rocket aspires to turn his hobby into a career, he unexpectedly wiggles his way into taking photos for a local newspaper. His value shines through to them when his personal photos of Li’l Ze and the gang surface on the front page of the newspaper. “No photographer has ever been able to go in there” – referring to the City of God – a newspaper worker tells Rocket, labeling him as a huge asset to them and all because of where he lives.

Alas, we follow Rocket as he weaves his way through the lives of others around him, capturing pivotal moments from time to time of everything from from Li’l Ze and Benny, his love interest Angelica, to the little Runts trying to work their way up the drug ladder.

The beauty of this film lies in not only the amazing cinematography, but also the character development and undying passion found throughout the plot. These people are passionate about what they love, who they love, where they live and where they come from. It’s not everyday you see people who find beauty in even the darkest of measures. If you want to endure a truly incredible, entertaining and thought provoking film while simultaneously learning what the slums are truly like in places like Rio de Janerio, then City of God is definitely for you.

Review: Benda Bilili

Smile! You’re on camera.

Do you ever get a strange sense of unease when you see one of those signs? Like there are eyes watching and documenting you? In film, this feeling of surveillance is used to entertain and teach us about what ‘real life’ is like in places around the world. You stand behind the camera and peer into the lives of others with preconceived notions of what their life is like. In Benda Bilili, the musicians being documented put themselves, their homes and the Democratic Republic of the Congo itself on display for our Western eyes to have a look at.

You’ve probably never quite heard a band like Staff Benda Bilili. This group of paraplegic men from the Congo started as street musicians playing one-stringed bass’ and homemade instruments and worked their way up to being an internationally touring group. Two French filmmakers travelled to the Congo to document this group’s every move for a number of years, which later turned into the film Benda Bilili. In exchange, the musical group has their first album recorded for free – how could they pass up that kind of deal? This film takes you on a journey of various fortunes and adversities of living in the Congo, and the positivity that continues to emerge from this afflicted group of men will make you question your own view on life.

Watching Benda Bilili made me feel as though I was staring at a group of people that were completely different. The film is intertwined with images of a place that is so different from where I’m from that I couldn’t help but feel as though I was looking into another world from some sort of higher standing (due to a Westernized upbringing). The men on screen were so unlike me that their story made watching them all the more interesting and entertaining. I couldn’t pull my gaze away from images of 15-20 men using solely their arms to participate in a competitive game of soccer. Some of the concepts were so strange to me that I spent most of the time trying to analyze the differences between us. Seeing Staff Benda Bilili create music out of homemade instruments you would never find in a music store demonstrates their resourcefulness from what is offered in their circumstances. What is great about this film is that it showcases a group of people who live opposite lives of most of the people who would be watching the film, while highlighting such a universally loved and appreciated art form – music.

If you love learning about the true nature of places around the world, a film like Benda Bilili is right for you. It will give you a view of the Congo like you have never seen before. It is important to immerse yourself and become aware of what is around your own personal bubbles. The diverse imagery of this film makes it a pleasure to consume yet not always easy to watch, and is sure to leave you with a new view on life in the Congo.

Reviewing World Cinema

This semester I’m taking a course on world cinema. It heavily incorporates writing reviews for films from all across the globe. This type of course is exactly why I love my major. I get to watch films that are usually amazing that I would never be able to find or watch on my own time. I’m really excited to improve my writing skills and produce some great work too.

That being said, I’ll be posting some of my reviews here for your enjoyment!

I hope you enjoy them and that they’ll spark your interest in seeing some of these fantastic films yourself.

Spring Break Forever

So, last night the Film Department at Queen’s organized buses to and from the movie theatre for students to go see Spring Breakers – for free! I’ve wanted to see the movie for a while now after I knew it had been shown at TIFF this past September. I had heard mixed feelings about the film – some liked it, and some didn’t. The promotion of the movie and its R-rating lead me to believe that it was going to be decently messed up – something uncommon for past Disney stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez.


Needless to say, it was not what I was expecting. I walked away from the film having actually enjoyed it while the majority of the students on the bus ride home discussed how awful they thought it was. Having seen a previous Harmony Korine film, I knew that it was going to be a film that you had to view with an open mind. The repetition of certain lines such as “spring break forever” countless times over throughout the movie was a little much, and the unrealistic circumstances of one of the girls getting shot, going home, while the others stayed was also a bit disturbing, but overall I thought it was pretty different. It was nice to see the actresses in a role that was unlike anything they had ever done.

I would recommend seeing it, but don’t go running to the theatres.