Tuesday, March 08, 2011


It's not often that a movie really gets a chance to sneak up and surprise you these days. Previews are available all over the place, there are specialty websites for just about every genre of film, and even independent films have usually been well-scoped-out on the festival circuit before hitting theaters (if they hit theaters at all, but that's a whole different issue). Still, Mooz-lum managed to reach Boston without much, if any, fanfare; less, even, than the other small film that opened the same week (The Grace Card). Still, it appears to have done well enough to have made it to a second week. It's currently sharing a screen with Unknown, but it's arguably got the prime spot (the 7pm screening).

That's the sneaking up. The surprise comes as the movie starts and the first scene between Evan Ross and Roger Guenveur Smith turns out to be really good. It's not like I expected the movie to be sub-par or anything, but it's not that often that it gets you to sit up and think "hey, this one might be something special". Heck, sometimes even the really good movies don't do that; they may be excellent and affecting, but often, they're honed to the point where they don't surprise at all. There's a slight sense that Qasim Basir is unpracticed, not exactly sure how to get the effect he wants but smart enough not to push it, for what shows up to seem spontaneous and real.

The end result isn't perfect - it's got real problems, in fact; Basir seems to know what he wants his movie to be about but not what he wants his characters to do - but it does its job well enough that as the credits rolled, some of the other people in the audience were asking the ushers how long the film would be playing, as they wanted to push it on their Facebook pages and otherwise tell people to come. That strikes me as an unusually strong emotional reaction - one that may only come from the movie being discovered, rather than served up.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 March 2010 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run)

Mooz-lum opens with "based on actual events", and it does wind up feeling like the sort of the sort of movie that such a label gets applied to. It's well-observed and at times fascinatingly authentic, but also clearly the work of a young filmmaker who may feel the need to grab that extra hook into the audience. Writer/director Qasim Basir is a little rough at points, but he's got good material and gets great results fairly often.

As the film opens, Tariq (Evan Ross) is starting his freshman year at college after having been home-schooled by his father Hassan (Roger Guenveur Smith) for the past few years. He's less than enthusiastic about some of the people he encounters - Cedric (Vladimi Versailles) across the hall made his life difficult back in public elementary school; both Hamza (Kunal Sharma), the Muslim roommate his father insisted upon, and his girlfriend Iman (Summer Bishil), are far less conflicted about their religion than he is; and his sister Taqua (Kimberly Drummond) has decided that this is the perfect time for her and their mother Safiyah (Nia Long) to become a part of Tariq's life again.

There's plenty more going on - a nice girl (Maryam Basir), a challenging professor (Dorian Missick) and the dean (Danny Glover) who doesn't like him, and flashbacks to Tariq's childhood in the early 1990s (which does mean, yes, that Tariq is starting college in August of 2001). It's as if Basir is attempting to fit every detail from his own life and anecdote others have told him in, and at times that makes for an extremely busy movie: There's a lot of flashback time, the culmination of the subplot with Professor Jamal and Dean Francis, and the climax of the 9/11 segment rests not on any of the main characters, but a pair of students we've barely seen.

Full review at EFC.

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