A Walk to Beautiful Heavy Metal in Baghdad.

Yes, that's actually two film titles that I decided to combine into one blog title for comedic and/or dramatic purposes (with mixed success). A Walk to Beautiful and Heavy Metal in Baghdad (both available for instant viewing on Netflix) differ drastically in content, but both convey similar stories of people struggling against that which they cannot control.

In retrospect, I'm not entirely sure why I decided to watch A Walk to Beautiful. Five Ethiopian women travel to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. Have you ever heard of a fistula before? 'Cause I hadn't. I thought, Oh, just another disease prevalent in Africa because a buncha people there don't have access to decent health care. Should be emotionally devastating. But, I wasn't putting enough emphasis on emotionally devastating when I pressed play - maybe because it's only about 50 minutes long (85 minutes was the length of the original cut, but the 50 minutes for the PBS Nova version was more than enough for this guy).

Meet Ayehu, a 25 yr old single woman who lived in a straw shed, separate from her family, because she had a fistula, which is essentially a hole between organs' passageways that aren't really supposed to be there. In Ayehu's case, it was a hole between her bladder and vagina, so she constantly leaked urine. This happened because of her intensive, several days long labor in which she gave birth to a dead fetus, but the internal trauma of the experience had caused this fistula to appear. And apparently this is common enough for there to be a fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, where women all over the country travel for help.

Not a simple journey. Ayehu, for example, had a six-hour walk to the nearest road to take a 16 hour bus ride to the capital. Family did not travel with, and the women had to suffer the embarrassment of the long, hot bus ride sitting in and smelling like their own excrement (thus the incessant shunning from families, which sometimes drives these women to consider or commit suicide), not to mention the hygienic nightmare of such a situation.

As an American, though, I probably decided to watch this because I like success stories, or stories that make me hopeful and then satisfy my hopes in two hours or less. A movie titled A Walk to Beautiful has that kinda shit written all over it. Ayehu's beautiful walk, for example, while having the treacherous subtext of walking six hours and leaking urine down her leg the entire time, showed the untouched beauty of rural Ethiopia, and it was a walk endured to end suffering. And this hope and beauty is all here in this doc, but not before reality kicked me square in the nuts a few more times.

Wukete, a 17 year old, was at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital for her third time. Her fistula had been repaired, but she continued to leak. Let's take a timeout for some "fun" facts: 17 yr old Wukete had been married four times, escaped her first three husbands, received beatings from her father for leaving her husbands, did not have a mother, and stayed with the fourth husband because she got pregnant. She was in labor for, let's see...10 days? I could be wrong. It might have been 12. But back to the present narrative - though her fistula had been repaired in previous visits to the Fistula Hospital, her bladder had been crushed and shrunk to a size not able to contain her regular production of urine.

Now, Wukete was about as depressing as anything, but there was good news.

These fistulas? Yeah, not terribly difficult to repair. Well, the success rate at Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, at least from what A Walk to Beautiful depicted, seemed awfully high. These women came from across the country to find crowds of women suffering from the same condition, when they originally thought they were the only ones in the world. As Dr. Hamlin indicated, the emotional healing process at the Hospital can be as critical as the surgery itself. The women were relieved to hear others sharing the same stories that had haunted them for years, in some cases. They'd go home to their families to be accepted and loved again and tear down their straw 'quarantine' sheds.

But Wukete refused to return home. A wild horse at heart and trapped by circumstance, she plead with the nurses to help her find a place to go where she had a chance at being happy. And well, her smile was worth the emotionally taxing price of pressing play.

Material like this shocks our senses. I edited out some of my descriptions of these women's lives because I felt overwhelmed rereading it, which supports Acrassicauda drummer Marwan's final argument at the end of Heavy Metal in Baghdad.

After the band convinced filmmakers Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi to show some rough edits of the documentary's early footage, Marwan saw their old practice space in Baghdad demolished for the first time (he and guitarist Tony were first to leave Baghdad for Syria - the new home of over 1.2 million Iraqi refugees since the start of the Iraq war). Acrassicauda had spent better parts of days, weeks and months in this practice space learning to play the metal they loved listening to, and Marwan's memories of developing his passion for drumming lay amidst the videotaped rubble. "These are things that you lay your back on," he says. "These are the things that you turn off the TV whenever, or like change the channel when it's on...daily life in Iraq..." 23 yr old Marwan is right - it is a privilege to ignore the worst things that are happening in the world. Neither he nor Acrassicauda could ignore the destruction of their practice space that had enabled their passion.

Acrassicauda, the only metal band in Iraq, allowed Moretti and Alvi to film their lives from the start of the Iraq War in 2003 through the close of 2006. Life in Baghdad was decidedly not better after Saddam's regime, according to the band. They were all on edge, and Marwan cried out early in the film that he played drums so that he didn't kill someone. The bass player Firas, with whom the filmmakers spent much of their time, indicated that not only was his Slipknot tshirt endangering him, but his goatee was scrutinized as well (he decided to grow it into a beard). It was Firas's video of the aftermath and rubble of their practice space that Marwan saw - images familiar to the viewer by the time Marwan watched. The band had been split by the political turmoil and members of the band left for Damascus, Syria, where the others eventually went for refuge as well.

Firas hated Damascus and missed Baghdad. He joked that the rockets, bombs, and gunfire became a part of him that was now gone. Though safe, he was not at ease. They reignited Acrassicauda, however, and played a show in a large room in a basement, resembling a fancy catering room (not the ideal metal venue). Members had concluded this may be the last Acrassicauda show.

But something happened at that show that I've never seen at a show in America. They sucked. Hard. They opened with the unfortunate 80s pop smash "The Final Countdown," but 'metal-ed' up a bit (not a good thing). They'd prepared many cover songs because their metal scene in Iraq had either fled the country or died, and they weren't at home anyway. They knew as little of what to expect as the spectators (of which there appeared to be none, initially). Having been cautious at first with song selection, they let go and played Metallica.

Now, stop a second. Think of how we perceive Metallica now (lame?). Now, think of what Metallica might mean to oppressed Iraqi's and Syrians frightened of the war spilling into their homeland.

The crowd reacted. The room sparked. Acrassicauda, to the audience (now an actual crowd) for that moment, was Metallica, and would probably be the closest anyone in that basement would ever get to seeing the Metallica. Acrassicauda continued with their heavier covers and received more raucous praise from the audience. Confident now, they smashed out their original songs which were met with yet more cheers. Afterwards, they all concluded they could not disband.

A disaster gone success - a near impossibility at an American music venue. I'll be the first to admit that the second a band starts to suck ass, I don't give them a second chance. Part of the luxury of having the freedom to enjoy whatever music I like in whatever capacity, I guess.

And speaking of freedoms, this guy's glad, perhaps more so than ever, that he never has to bear the responsibility of birthing a child. And speaking of things that make this guy glad, I'm glad my metal-loving ass doesn't live in fucking Baghdad for crying out loud. *Air guitar squeal*


W. the Movie: 'Bout As Good As His Presidency. Oh, Also, Religulous.

Oliver Stone - you fucking asshole. Fuck you. You decided to make this W. movie in January, okay, shot it in like, May or some shit, and fucking rushed it to theaters October 17th. And, it was a movie, that not only served zero purpose, no. It was also a movie that feasted endlessly on my balls. I cannot believe you didn't show Bush blowing coke once. Not Once!!! I'm sorry, but why would you be in such a rush to release a piece of shit movie before elections only to not show our dumb ass president blowing coke. Why?!

Okay. So you decided not to show W. (Josh Brolin) sending line after line of cocaine up his nose in a movie about his mishap of a life in which he blew lots of cocaine. No, I'm behind you, Oliver! Why waste time depicting all of the truth when you're on a tight schedule for no goddamn reason whatsoever!? On that line of reasoning, why waste your time working closely with an extremely talented cast of actors who all turned in sub-par to shitty performances? I mean, why would you wanna do a thing like that anyway, when you're making a movie, you jerk?!

I have one last idea as to why Oliver Stone first made this movie, and then rushed it into theatres. He saw potential interest in the public, because the country generally hates the shit outta this guy. Also, there was no way in hell such a bad idea and paltry product could make money any way else. Well guess what - you made a sucker outta me, Oliver. I plopped my $10 down and saw your pile of shit movie. Happy? I fucking hope so. You just committed career suicide in my book, brother. You think I'll pay for anything else you release here on out? I might watch it pirated. That is, if you ever have another pea-brained idea that raises any interest in me whatsoever. You fucking made Platoon, you fuck, and Natural Born Killers and Born on the 4th of July...some of my favorite movies! How in the hell coul...

*Deep breath*

Anyway, we meet our W. in...no. We never meet our W. We meet Stone's W. on a baseball field filled with cheers, roars, and completely empty seats. This imagery recurs. Fly ball, W. goes to catch it, but there's no ball to be caught. How symbolic! Then we see him in the White House, where he says stupid shit, and in a frat, where he says stupid shit and drinks a lot, and in the 70s where he says stupid shit and drinks a lot, and goading a fist fight with his father while drunk and saying stupid shit after drunkenly driving his car onto Poppy's front lawn (that's H.W., played yawningly by James Cromwell, or as Manohla Dargis of NYTimes put it, "Mr. Cromwell does a nice job imitating a block of wood...") - a decidedly stupid thing to do.

But let's go back to the White House. There they were - everyone I'd been dying to see play their respective crony: Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney; a delightfully comical physicality of Karl Rove from Toby Jones; Jeffrey Wright as a ho-hum Colin Powell; uhmm...some disappointing dudes as Rummsfeld and Ari Fleischer (Ari was actually Rob Corddry, the Daily Show correspondent guy, who I never before found boring); and uhh...oh dear god, the worst - Thandie Newton as a high-pitched Bobblehead Condoleeza Rice. Condy's not high-pitched, nor a bobblehead doll - make note, Mr. Stone: not a bobblehead doll.

So say what you will about the Bush administration, but it's just fulla interesting characters. How they could be reduced to caricatures by actors I'm consistently delighted to see on screen is just...insulting. Brolin and Dreyfuss stood out as actors most accurately inhabiting a physicality of their subjects, but the script - and presumably the director (that's you again, Oliver) - failed to give them anything to play with (that's what she said). Everyone recited sound bites we've all heard blared at us by the mainstream media countless times and don't need to hear again.

And that was the only reason I saw this movie. To get something else. Different. Something Stone-ian, a la Nixon or Wall Street. I got a Cleveland Steamer on my shoe, is what I got.

What a fucking prick, that Oliver...

Which brings me to Bill Maher, the indirect focus of the new documentary Religulous, directed by Larry Charles ("Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"). These guys decided to go out and make a movie that actually provided a different perspective from the ones rammed down our throats for the past eight years (love that buzz phrase - the past eight years - makes your skin crawl with fascism, doesn't it?). And I fucking appreciated it.

Bill Maher goes around America interviewing religious idiots for laughs, personal and otherwise. Lord knows I be enjoyin' me some laughs at the expense of religious idiots. And laugh I did. Often. For the first hour. Then Maher and company decided to make a point, and I said, "Whoa, whoa dudes. Whoa. Why can't I just laugh at you making jokes out of these religious imbeciles? Ya know, man? Why'd you, uhh, have to start shoving your anti-religious rhetoric down my throat like the Religious Right with their intolerance?" And shove he did, right down all of our nothungryforthisbullshit throats. It would've been nice to just see idiots look like idiots and the occasional religious non-idiot give Maher something thought-provoking to debate. But no. You had to tirade on secularism like a televangelist.

Still, it was quite funny when he made buffoons out of the religious televangelists he interviewed. A lot funnier than anything in W., which...ah, goddammit Oliver! Why couldn't you at least show Brolin send a little white line of nose candy up his fun hole (i.e. nostril)? I'd hate you so much less. Get fucked, Oliver, along with Bill Maher's preachy secularist horsepiss.


Persepolis: Movie About Iranians Who Are Not In Fact Terrorists

I watched Persepolis today, Marjane Satrapi's true story of growing up in war-torn Tehran, Iran in the late 70s into the 80s. I know, I know - what interest might I have in the story of an inevitable terrorist cell? Well I'll say, I wouldn't have had any interest in this film if it had been about your prototypical Iranian terrorist, where they worship Jihad and eat their own babies (that's how the quote unquote Terrorist Story goes, right?). I realized that some terrorists aren't like real terrorists even if they are of terrorist descent, and actually behave the same way all my non terrorist friends do, too! Hell - some of these terrorists who happen to hail from Iran, like Marjane Satrapi, probably aren't even terrorists at all. Maybe they're just the unfortunate ones bearing the brunt of our hatred of terrorists without having terrorized anything at all. Some might argue they've endured more terrorism than US (what?!).

They might be right.

Not enough of the people showing up at Sarah Palin rallies, screaming how Barack Obama's a terrorist because he's a Muslim and has a terrorist name, have seen this movie. Persepolis deftly compiled a portrait of humanity in a digestible 95 minutes, complete with highlights of the importance of family values and necessity of teenage rebellion in unstable settings. Marjane had a strong family for support while she adapted to the wildness of an oppressive government, and she lashed out to better understand herself. Ya know - like American kids.

When I first heard that Persepolis would be made into a movie, I scoffed. I read Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood in a nonfiction workshop in college and it shocked me - the contrast of such adult times through the eyes of an innocent child, accentuated by the comic book narration in a form not unlike Maus I and II. Persepolis felt naturally conformed to the graphic novel, though the sense of immediacy tempted me to consider it happening on film. A film would not allow me to dwell, however, on the emotions aroused in me by Marjane's relationship with her uncle Anoush, for example (for which I needed much time to dwell - I needed to put the book down).

Years later I read the second book, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, and felt it missed the innocence and simplicity that thrived in the first book. Surely, Marjane had become a woman and had different, more complex adult views. I felt the text overwhelmed the powerful imagery, so prevalent before, now languishing in each graphic panel, replaced by political rhetoric and exclamations on coming of age. Persepolis 2 hadn't lost Satrapi's charm, however, and was only slightly disappointing because of the power of its predecessor.

In a roundabout way, the film Persepolis resolved the unevenness I felt from the two books. While the material from the first felt shortened in the movie and the emotions somewhat dampened, the material from the second felt appropriately consolidated into a tone more relatable to the first. Still - I marvel at the first novel and do not feel it could be improved upon in any way. The first chapter in Persepolis, "The Veil," introduced us to a repressed culture to which a Westerner could relate. The girls forced to wear veils and suffer from sameness played with the veils like toys on the playground by the bottom of the first page. Starting the film, however, we're introduced to an adult, contemplative Marjane sitting in an airport as she began reimagining childhood. The latter would be a staple beginning to a coming of age film, yet it didn't have the impact of breaking into a new world like the book. Would the first chapter of the book have better served the opening of the film? Possibly, but my bias is clear. In the film's defense, the recurring imagery of airports in the film elevated the tension of Marji's first parting from her parents for Vienna, as her father carried her faint mother away from the scene of the goodbye.

The reinterpretation of the second book to film allowed the imagery to do more of the narrative work. When Satrapi felt compelled to expound upon her duress in word, it delved too deeply into the mania of young adulthood. The heartache of loss, the betrayal of a first love... film has a wonderful thing called "montage," where the heartbreak can be conveyed quickly and understood without sweating the details in overbearing detail. This helped the second leg of the story. The animation stayed alive and playful amidst the often frightening backdrop Marjane's life - the film's, and story's, strongest achievement.

So that's a highfalutin' way of looking at it (gosh darn it!). But my point is, you can watch this movie and feel like you've experienced something like never before - like you heard a taboo secret, like you were punched in the stomach, like you heard a joke for the first time, like you have a new understanding of freedom, learning that people from "Terroristland Iran" eat, think, breathe and try to raise families under tough circumstances just like we do. Just like I felt after finishing Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood.