Tag Archives: england

Theater: Nadia Manzoor, ‘Burq Off!’

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The colorful backdrop for Nadia Manzoor’s “Burq Off!” at Elephant Stages in Hollywood. SCREAMfmLondon

Against a multicolored backdrop of glittery silk fabrics, Nadia Manzoor magically transformed herself into 21 diverse characters for three sold-out performances of her one-woman show, “Burq Off!” July 17-19 at Elephant Stages in Hollywood.

The 90-minute show follows Manzoor’s life, beginning when she was five years old and wanted to become an astronaut but was rebuffed by her father (“Who will feed your husband if you are floating about in space?”). It culminates during her university years with a poignant scene in which Manzoor’s twin brother Khurram, who has become an Islamic extremist, tells her that her straying from the Muslim lifestyle is the reason their mother died of cancer.

The story aims to inspire self-exploration and self-expression through Manzoor’s own experiences trying to define and make peace with her identity as a woman and as a Pakistani Muslim living in London.

Manzoor, who wrote and stars in the play, does a remarkable job of embodying all of the characters in her life using only her voice, her body and a few transformative pieces of fabric. It’s really not a one-woman show at all; it’s as rich as if there were a dozen different actors on the stage. It’s impressive to see everyone, from her ultra-stern Abbu (dad) to her white classmates at an all-girls school in England and the Irish bartender she falls in love with while attending Manchester University, come to life despite the minimal presentation.

The performance was, at times, mildly amusing, although not quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious as some of the more gregarious audience members seemed to find it.

One of the most notable touches of “Burq Off!” was a parallel set of dance sequences during two pivotal moments in Manzoor’s life: the first time she wore a burqa in public and, later, the first time she stepped out in a bikini. Each garment was equally liberating for her in its own way — a freedom that could only be expressed through song and dance. Manzoor, who is also (apparently) a dancer, cleverly incorporated elements of Bollywood and hip-hop styles and combined them with her own comical delivery for very memorable musical asides.

The Elephant Stages theater excelled at designing a powerful and versatile set for Manzoor to work within and manipulate while telling her story. Just one table and a few chairs whisked the audience away to the dorm room in which Manzoor lost her virginity, the bar counter she vomited upon after getting drunk for the first time, the hospital bed where she last spoke to her Ammi (mom).

“Burq Off!” was a well put-together coming-of-age story and an honest examination of the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a conservative Muslim home. It’s not a perspective that is heard often enough in the United States, and Manzoor’s strong talent makes her an all the more effective storyteller.

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Capsule film reviews: Four more foreign LGBT movies

‘Yossi & Jagger’ (Israel)
Release Date:
Aug. 1, 2002
Director: Eytan Fox
Starring: Ohad Knoller, Yehuda Levi and Assi Cohen
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Grade: A

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Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing.

This movie is great — it somehow manages to create vivid and multidimensional depictions of all of the characters (even the background ones) and their connections to one another, although almost the entire plot takes place over the course of a single day. The story follows Yossi (Ohad Knoller), a commander of a company of soldiers in the Israeli army, and his second-in-command officer, Lior (Yehuda Levi), with whom he’s having a secret affair. Lior is quite amusing and endearing, his full-bodied personality and passion for music earning him the nickname “Jagger” among his comrades. Yossi is more reserved and sensible, but their chemistry is obvious, and the film beautifully and succinctly captures the loving relationship between the two. Also impressive are the stand-out performances of Aya Steinovitz and Hani Furstenberg as the company’s two female soldiers who are individually finding their places in a male-dominated field. The 67-minute film is quick but undoubtedly touching and memorable.

‘Weekend’ (United Kingdom)
Release Date:
Sept. 23, 2011
Director: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Tom Cullen, Chris New and Jonathan Race
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

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Photo courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures/Sundance Selects.

I remember when “Weekend” was released because it was very much talked-about, and it is still just as good years later. In fact, it’s very refreshing and kind of remarkable in that it’s such a well-made, high-quality gay romance film that does not at all feature a gay panic as a plot device. Both main characters, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), are already well aware that they’re gay and are out of the closet when the story begins with them meeting in a club and going home together one Friday night. The film follows the slow building of their relationship as they spend the weekend together having meaningful conversations, taking drugs, riding bumper cars and having sex. It is bittersweet, though, because Glen is scheduled to leave for America the following week. “Weekend” is really a beautiful, captivating movie that is romantic and interesting. It’ll move you.

‘Undertow’ (Peru)
Release Date:
Sept. 23, 2009
Director: Javier Fuentes-León
Starring: Cristian Mercado, Manolo Cardona and Tatiana Astengo
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

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Photo courtesy of Axiom Films.

“Undertow” is a pretty well-executed, interesting romance — almost a fairy tale with its melancholic, supernatural twist and star-crossed lovers. It begins with Peruvian fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) sneaking away from his pregnant wife Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) to carry on an affair with a reclusive painter, Santiago (Manolo Cardona). It’s a pretty standard storyline until you remember that this is supposed to be a ghost story: Santiago shortly drowns at sea and returns as a ghost that only Miguel can see. At first, they’re excited and try to make their relationship work, but then they realize that undead love triangles aren’t really any less complicated than everyday love triangles and aim to put Santiago’s body to rest. The story is unusual and enjoyable. “Undertow” does a good job characterizing the entire community and showing development throughout as the plot progresses. Some elements are more difficult to follow (the ghost thing, I mean), but it is, overall, a solid movie.

‘Guys and Balls’ (Germany)
Release Date:
Oct. 7, 2004
Director: Sherry Hormann
Starring: Maximilian Brückner, David Rott and Rolf Zacher
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language.
Grade: C+

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Photo courtesy of Regent Releasing.

“Guys and Balls” is both a goofy gay romance and a sports movie! It follows Ecki (Maximilian Brückner), who is the goalie of his small-town football team until his teammates discover that he’s gay and kick him off. After being ostracized in town both because of his sexuality and because of a big mistake he made that cost the team the game, he heads to the big city to put together an all-gay football team with whom he plans to beat his old teammates and redeem himself once and for all. A series of zany high jinks ensue, a lot of which rely on offensive stereotypes, but it all comes together in time for the climactic final scene at the big game. Ecki, at least, is a dopey but likeable character, and the movie is, overall, pretty silly, even though it does attempt to feature some serious storylines. It’s just okay, though.

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2013

‘Resolution’
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2013
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran and Zahn McClarnon
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

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Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film and Cinedigm.

Well, “Resolution” starts out with Michael (Peter Cilella) handcuffing his junkie buddy, Chris (Vinny Curran), to a pipe inside a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere in an attempt to get him sober. What could go wrong? The film is a pleasant surprise, though. As it progresses, it reveals itself to be a slow-paced psychological thriller that comments on storytelling and the horror genre itself. It’s like a low-budget take on the ideas explored in 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods,” although it’s definitely not as well-acted nor as tongue-in-cheek hilarious as its predecessor. Curran, in particular, does a really subpar job portraying his drug-addicted character. On the other hand, “Resolution” is a lot more actually menacing and scary than “Cabin in the Woods,” and its final 30 minutes are tense and unpredictable.

‘Stitches’
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Director: Conor McMahon
Starring: Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Tommy Knight
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, sexual content, language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Grade: C-

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Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group and Irish Film Board.

This is a really goofy premise, so stay with me: “Stitches” is an Irish horror-comedy about a clown who is accidentally killed at a child’s birthday party and is resurrected six years later to exact his revenge on the kids who were there. It’s an attempt at the hilariously over-the-top gore perfected in movies such as the “Leprechaun” franchise or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” but it isn’t executed as well. The cartoonish special effects aren’t too impressive, and it ends up being neither scary nor really funny (although there are some laughs). Considering there’s a Satanic ritual performed by clowns in the graveyard and an obsessive occult research segment on the history of clowns, “Stitches” should have been way more amusing. But there’s probably still a market for this. I’m not sure who those people would be, but they’re out there.

‘Berberian Sound Studio’
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

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Photo courtesy of Warp X and Illumination Films.

The film-within-a-film technique makes “Berberian Sound Studio” a creepy, slow-moving, atmospheric piece of surrealist cinema. The story follows British foley artist Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he arrives on set in Italy to work on mixing sounds for director Giancarlo Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) latest giallo flick. Santini’s film is an Argento-esque horror story (although he refuses to refer to it as such) about a girls’ school cursed by witches, requiring Gilderoy and crew to create many creative sound effects in the studio. This is fascinating to watch, although potentially boring for American audiences. “Berberian Sound Studio” then takes a “Mulholland Drive”-style abrupt left turn into the realm of the absurd about three-quarters of the way through, as Gilderoy grows increasingly discomforted by the nature of the film and the working environment. The final act is eerie and tense, although this film is a lot more understated and never becomes truly “horror.”

‘We Are What We Are’
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner and Bill Sage
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Entertainment One.

“We Are What We Are” is a thoughtful, beautifully-shot creepy thriller, but a lot of plot holes make it less enjoyable. The film (a remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film of the same name, although several key elements are different) focuses on the reclusive Parkers — a family of urban cannibals — following the death of Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva), the mother of three children. The film is clearly supposed to make comment on religious fervor, patriarchal traditions and family bonds, but it seems like a lot of this is lost in translation. The influence of 2011’s excellent “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” about a woman escaping from the clutches of an oppressive cult, is extremely evident, but “We Are What We Are” never seems as believable. Luckily, the acting is strong from all three leads, the cinematography is attractive, and super blonde children are inherently disturbing. I only wish as much attention to detail had been paid to the screenwriting as was paid to the look of the film.