Friday, 19 April 2019

Akasha (Hajooj Kuka, 2018)

Three months into his two months leave, rebel soldier Adnan (Kamal Ramadan) is ambivalent about returning to his unit. When his girlfriend Lina (Ekram Marcus) kicks him out, Adnan has to go on the run before his commanding officer catches him.

But before he leaves, Adnan needs one thing: his gun.

Set during the Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005), Akasha (The Round Up) is a comedy about two AWOL soldiers on the run in their home town from both their units and the women in their lives.

In the premise one can see the contours of the Hollywood version - two soldiers go on the lam dressed as women - but Akasha is more nuanced and grounded than its initial set up suggests. The disguises do not even last that long. 

What is most fascinating about the film is the way its context is woven through the entire diegesis. The movie's greatest success is its juxtaposition between the characters' hijinks and the sociopolitical pressures they are under.

Adnan is a fascinating character - starting out as a bit of a blowhard, he has been dining out on the celebrity he gained from shooting a government drone down with his beloved AK 47, who he has nicknamed 'Nancy'. Nancy is the one thing he cares for - in an early scene he lovingly rubs it down with skin cream. 

It is an extremely warm and intimate sequence - or would be, if it was not a man literally stroking his gun. Adnan's relationship to his gun is the basis of his confidence, and his masculinity. 

When his long-suffering girlfriend Lina takes Nancy as her own, Adnan is - in his own mind - unmanned. 

One of the great things about the movie is the way it satirises Adnan's views of gender roles - without his weapon, Adnan has nothing; meanwhile Lina literally moves on with her day, with 'Nancy' as a trophy.

While the conflict itself is never a subject of ridicule, the movie constantly juxtaposes images of  men playing war while everyone else in the village (women, elders and children) try to get on with life. 

The soldiers drive around aimlessly with nothing to use their mounted machine gun on - at one dramatic moment, it stalls in sand.

Occasionally the compositions are messy, the editing sometimes works against comprehension, and some of the performances are pretty wooden, but none of these flaws matter when the dramatic intent remains so strong.

Furthermore, this movie is funny: Adnan's infatuation with 'Nancy' is ridiculous, and his attempts to win over Lina fall flat. Even the minor beats are great: there is a running subplot involving one soldier trying to tell jokes is excruciatingly hilarious. 

The movie is not about violent or romantic resolution - the movie is ultimately about its main characters accepting different kinds of responsibility, and not necessarily as soldiers. Adnan finally has to acknowledge his deficits to Lina (in front of everyone), while his friend Absi (Ganja Chakado) - a resolute non-combatant - supplies their commander with info about an enemy force that is preparing to attack the village.

Woven within the broader historical context, the movie is also a universal story about characters achieving maturity - whether our heroes will live long enough to make good on this growth is left up in the air.

The debut of documentarian Hajooj Kuka, Akasha is definitely worth a look. You can check out more information about the film here.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

In the latest episode we review the 1957 novel From Russia With Love, written by Ian Fleming. Subscribe on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts!

Thursday, 18 April 2019


While on a family vacation to Santa Cruz, the Wilsons (Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) run into some trouble... (at this point everybody knows what this movie is about).

Hong Kong poster
Man, this sucker cooks.

I loved the precision of this movie - from the script to the technical execution, everything sings. Peele's record in comedy may cause people to see his success here as a surprise, but you can see the overlap in the way this movie is paced. This whole movie is orchestrated with expert timing - every scare and surprise in this movie hits like a punchline.

Some elements are pleasingly old school - Michael Abels' score, with its eerie choir recalling seventies horror icons like Jerry Goldsmith's theme from The Omen and Lalo Schifrin's The Amityville Horror; the framing of the villains are reminiscent of John Carpenter; even the movie's resolution feels like a play on the idea that evil has already won - but what I loved about Us was that it never feels like empty homage.

The cast are fantastic.

Lupita Nyong'o is incredible - Adelaide is agitated by past trauma, and is constantly on edge - while her performance as Red is uncanny - her physicality, at once robotic and graceful, is terrifying. Once their real relationship is revealed, Nyong'o's performance gains new dimension - there is a selfishness to Adelaide which is fascinating.

Is it even selfishness? She wants to protect her family - a familiar desire, that is here stripped of its traditional moral certainty. Adelaide loves her family - but she is also capable of doing terrible things. Red has been rendered evil by her actions, but does the same hold true for Adelaide? Her actions since childhood have not been particularly amazing - she leads a normal life.

Does that absolve her of kidnapping? Isn't she coming from the same place as Red? Wanting to escape?

Nyong'o's multifaceted performance provides no answers, and is even m ore interesting on a second viewing.

Winston Duke, in a complete inversion of his role from Black Panther, is a lame suburban dad who leans into the cheese, but cannot help but fall into the stereotype. His performance becomes even more impressive when juxtaposed with his doppelganger Abraham.

In supporting roles as their friends/neighbours/rivals the Tylers, Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss are also great. One of the most uncomfortable dynamics of the movie is the juxtaposition between the families - while there is a familiarity, there is an airlessness to their interactions. They feel more like neighbours than friends.

Peele's colouring of Gabe (Duke) and Josh's (Heidecker) relationship is hilariously uncomfortable. Their interactions feel more like a subtle game of oneupmanship - the Tylers feel more like a perverse ideal that Gabe is aiming for. In their own way, the Tylers are more dead inside than their Tethered counterparts.

I loved the twist in this movie - at the end of the movie it is revealed that Adelaide is actually one of the Tethered - she kidnapped Red and swapped places with her, growing up above ground to become a loving wife and mother while Red was forced to enact a parody of Adelaide's life.

The movie ends on a great beat, with Adelaide's son stares at her suspiciously. She offers him a half smile - to reassure him that everything will be okay? An acknowledgement of what he suspects? Or - my preference - both?

The ending of the movie presents a great conundrum: can good people be rendered evil by circumstance (Red)? Can people who commit evil acts be good?

There are no easy moral divides here - and the Tethered's final invasion of the surface world feels like retribution - like Red, they have been trapped in a system they have no control over, and now they have broken out.

Us is a great movie, and further evidence that Get Out was not a one-off.

If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random. 

In the latest episode we review the 1957 novel From Russia With Love, written by Ian Fleming. Subscribe on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts!