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Jihad for Dummies: Traitor—Take 1

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Jihad for Dummies: Traitor—Take 1

Traitor, an international espionage thriller written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (better known as the guy who wrote the global warming thriller The Day After Tomorrow), pits Guy Pearce’s southern Baptist F.B.I. man Roy Clayton against Don Cheadle’s devout Muslim, maybe renegade, former U.S. soldier Samir Horn in a cat and mouse game across several continents and 17 cities. The movie is loaded with misguided Muslims and Americans alike, all of them just trying to do the right thing and slaughtering innocents in the process, so it comes as no surprise that several of the crew (including DP J. Michael Muro) and Cheadle himself were involved in the faux-deep car wreck that was Crash. For the Traitor script is as jam-packed with simpleminded and heavy-handed exposition-posing-as-profound-thought as it is with suicide bombings and hand-to-hand combat action—all of it so painful to listen to and observe that I wanted to blow myself up during the first half. And I don’t even like virgins.

Which is too bad since the story concept (originating with executive producer Steve Martin!) is as complex and interesting as the script is clichéd and tedious. Cheadle’s Samir is a living lens through which the twin paradoxes of causing violence by doing the right thing and saving lives by doing the wrong thing are magnified. Happily, the story’s twists and turns are both numerous and unpredictable. Yet the lightning speed pacing, courtesy of slick editing and drive-by camera moves through the numerous foreign locales (all set to jaunty Middle Eastern music), feels like nothing more than a desperate attempt to distract us from the atrocious, one-note, tone deaf script. Any visual enjoyment is tempered by the Al Gore lecture posing as the film’s dialogue (only An Inconvenient Truth is more thrilling and informative).

One montage sequence in which Samir’s background is monotonously droned from different mouths is particularly grating. An F.B.I. agent reads from a file that Samir’s father was Sudanese and his mother is from Chicago (yeah, got that from several other scenes), cut to another person talking about how he had discipline problems in high school—nearly killed a kid!—and on and on. And does any of this make any difference to the story? Of course not. Nachmanoff employs this unnecessary drivel as running time filler, ignoring the very apparent fact that having other characters lay out the lead’s back-story is wet cement, not cinematic in the slightest. And some of the lines are unintentionally hilarious, as when Clayton’s old school partner Max Archer (eerie-eyed Neal McDonough) reads a file and suddenly grasps that some bombing victims may have been fake: “Wait—these people died as infants!” he declares.

However, what’s not so humorous are the many clichéd Muslim characters—either piously praying or cynically drinking wine—surrounding Cheadle’s three-dimensional one. In the press notes, Nachmanoff and his producers take pride in having cast actual Arabs in the roles of, uh, Arabs! But this whole “we hired Arabs to play Arabs,” p.c. self-congratulating is offensive in light of the fact that not one Arab is serving in any key position of power on the film. Without Arabs in the all important roles of producers or writers, director or cinematographer, Nachmanoff’s simply putting an American point of view into the mouths of Arab actors, then hiding behind that flimsy mask and patting himself on the back for his Muslim “sensitivity” (as superficial an act as making Pearce’s Clayton “complicated” by having him major in Arabic in college). Personally, I’d rather see Benicio del Toro play Samir’s terrorist pal Omar over French-Moroccan hottie Saïd Taghmaoui (from Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine) and have an Arab at the helm.

Yet it’s apparent why impressive talent like Cheadle (who needs to challenge himself soon by just playing an out-and-out badass villain, as his likability is wearing out its welcome), Pearce, and Jeff Daniels (as an independent contractor for the C.I.A.) signed on to this grand idea that doesn’t deliver. Cheadle got onboard for a chance to explore a complicated and contradictory leading man. (Unfortunately, as deep as Samir is, he’s still tied to an unsubtle script.) Aussie Guy Pearce wanted the chance to don a good ole boy accent. (Unfortunately, it sounds like southern fried Australia.) And Jeff Daniels probably just wanted to fund his Purple Rose Theatre Company in Michigan. All sound reasons in my book. But if I learned anything from watching Traitor, it’s that sometimes doing what you think is the right thing just ain’t good enough.

Brooklyn-based writer Lauren Wissot is the publisher of the blog Beyond the Green Door, the author of the memoir Under My Master’s Wings, and a columnist for Spout Blog.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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