This week, Cineast offers previews of the new films Amira & Sam, Wild Card and Girlhood.
Amira & Sam
This just in: Martin Starr, who many may still picture as the geeky Bill Haverchuck in the cult-fave TV series Freaks and Geeks, has grown out of his gawkiness and has actually become a bit of a dashing fellow. Who would have thought? The transformation is so pronounced that in Amira & Sam, Starr is cast as Sam, a military veteran of the Iraq war, and Starr, biceps bulging, actually looks like he could be a soldier. He certainly makes the cut as leading man in this thoughtful romantic comedy/drama. The story centers on Sam’s budding romance with Amira (Dina Shihabi), an Iraqi immigrant. The two meet un-cute (if that’s a thing) when Sam goes to visit an Iraqi friend who is Amira’s uncle—Amira is suspicious of Sam, whom she suspects of being a cop. (Sam does have a donut in a bag.) When Sam reveals that he can speak Arabic and is not, in fact, a bigot, Amira’s attitude changes, and the two are drawn together. In American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s current film about Iraq, a skilled sniper is destroyed by the horror and devastation of the conflict. Amira & Sam shows two participants from that same conflict developing a healthier perspective, and realizing that the overriding factor determining all of their own conflicts is the accident of where they were born. The arbitrary nature, and ultimately the folly, of borders and nation—who gets to live where—is further dramatized when Amira is threatened with deportation.
Jason Statham stars in Wild Card, playing Nick Wild, a Las Vegas-based professional bodyguard with a talent for killing and a gambling problem. When Wild sets out to avenge a friend who was assaulted and disfigured by a thug, the thug turns out to be the son of a top gangster, and Wild is drawn into a full-scale war with the Vegas mob. Prepare for lots of improbable twists and impossible escapes.
Not the sequel to Boyhood, Girlhood is in fact a French-language feature about a young black girl in the housing projects of Paris. A victim of her older brother’s violence and forced out of school (the French system offers high school only to the high-achievers), Marieme is looking for acceptance somewhere. She falls in with a gang of fellow outcasts—but unlike what might typically happen in this kind of film, Marieme’s sometimes illegal actions are not condemned. Rather, the filmmaker Celine Sciamma emphasizes the positive role of bonding between the girls and the importance of strong relationships in helping young people articulate thoughts and dreams. In French with English subtitles.