Heval


Michael Enright has a solution for the toilet paper shortage.

=

(2021) Documentary (Curiosity Stream) Michael Enright, Mace Gifford, Anthony Delgatto, Bill Park, David Malet, Clay Lawton, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Anne Speckhard, Jason Fritz, Rojda Fielat, Arie Kruglanski, Jordan Matson, Joseph Camby, Keith Caraway, Nuri Mahmood, Jim Dornan, Joanna Palani. Directed by Adam R. Wood

 

Michael Enright is an actor. He was born with what the Irish like to call “the gift of gab.” He came to America in the late 1980s to pursue a career as an actor, and being a handsome and rugged sort, got some roles in movies and TV shows starting out as an extra and working his way up to things like Pirates of the Caribbeanand Agents of SHIELD.

Like many others, he was greatly disturbed by the events of 9/11 and felt he needed to do something and actually called a military recruiter to see about volunteering, but his call was never returned and he decided not to pursue it. However, it stuck in his craw a little bit and when he saw footage of what ISIS was doing in Syria to the Kurds, he felt that he could no longer idly stand by. He volunteered to join the Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Unit (or YPG).

This is where the story gets a little murky. Enright claims he served on the front lines of the fight against ISIS and participated in the victorious assault on Reqqa, which had been the capital of the caliphate until the Kurds went after them. That account is disputed by Jordan Matson, who made several accusations that Enright was a publicity-seeking dilettante looking to further his own career, was distrusted and perhaps hated by the Kurds who had removed the firing pin from his weapons because they were concerned that he might accidentally shoot their own troops in the back. That account was largely picked up by the American press, seeing as Matson was in many ways the American face on the Kurdish militia. Handsome and military-trained, Matson had also, like Enright, volunteered to fight ISIS when it became clear that the American government would not place troops in harms way, preferring to use surgical drone strikes, diplomatic pressure and military aid to the Kurds to fight this particular foe.

But Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia investigated the claims of both men and found that Enright was actually telling the truth and that Matson, for his own reasons, was telling falsehoods (Matson was apparently approached to comment for the film but declined). Enright was, in fact, considered a valued asset to the Kurds, who had requested that Enright film his experiences in Syria with a GoPro camera that the YPG provided him. Much of the documentary’s footage was shot by Enright.

Enright is an engaging storyteller; although he is British by birth (he is originally from Manchester) there is an almost Irish flavor to him, given his storytelling ability and his general outgoing nature. He seems to be generally honest, and that is borne out by the reporter’s testimony, as well as testimony given on-camera by officials of the YPG.

One thing Roig-Franzia was unable to verify is crucial. You see, Enright had entered the United States on a tourist visa and had never bothered to get a green card. When he left to fight ISIS, even with the best of intentions – he felt he owed a debt to the United States for his success and he wanted to pay it back – when he tried to return, he was detained at the border. While in detention, he claims that he was approached by a CIA agent identified only as “the blonde,” and given a deal – in exchange for actionable intelligence that he delivered from Syria, his immigration issues would go away and he would be given that precious Green Card. THAT’S the part that nobody has been able to confirm.

So when the fighting ended, Enright was denied re-entry into the United States. He also is unable to return to Britain and currently lives in Belize where he has been petitioning the U.S. government to allow him to return. To this date, those petitions have been denied.

The film is a bit of a strange one, but then again, the story is a bit of a strange one. Enright is certainly a compelling personality and it’s difficult not to like him. The filmmakers certainly do; while the movie doesn’t whitewash his character, they don’t go fully into detailing why he can’t return to Britain, why he didn’t apply for a green card when he began to achieve success as an actor, and what he is doing in Belize.

This is the first original documentary feature to be produced by the nonfiction streaming service Curiosity Stream and it’s not a bad first effort. Personally, I would have appreciated a little more effort to tell a balanced story, but that isn’t a requirement for most documentaries. Nevertheless, the story is a compelling one and it might stimulate you into finding out more about him, which is a “mission accomplished” for any documentary. For now, the movie is only available to stream on Curiosity Stream but may become available for purchase on other VOD platforms at some later date in the future.

REASONS TO SEE: Enright is an engaging storyteller.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the hagiographic side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is much profanity, war violence and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: “Heval” is the Kurdish word for “friend” or “comrade.”
=BEYOND THE THEATERS: Curiosity Stream
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/1/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Outpost
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Jesus Music

As Above, So Below


Perdita Weeks wonders if there isn't an easier way to make it into Hollywood.

Perdita Weeks wonders if there isn’t an easier way to make it into Hollywood.

(2014) Horror (Universal/Legendary) Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro, Hamid Djavadan, Theo Cholbi, Emy Levy, Roger Van Hool, Olivia Csiky Trnka, Hellyette Bess, Aryan Rahimian, Samuel Aouizerate, Kaya Blocksage. Directed by John Erick Dowdle

Below the streets of Paris there is another city, a city of the dead. The legendary catacombs are where the remains of some say as many as eight million Parisians rest. Bones stacked neatly in ghoulish patterns – this is a real place, an actual tourist attraction in the City of Light. How perfect a setting it would be for a horror movie.

Scarlett (Weeks) is going to oblige us on that score. She believes that the legendary Philosopher’s Stone which European alchemists of the 15th century famously believed could change base metals into gold and allow the possessor to live forever, also rests in a secret chamber off the catacombs. She is a bit nutty on the subject – her dad (Van Hool) searched his entire life for the Stone and was ridiculed by the scientific community for it. His suicide only drove her into further obsession to find the artifact.

After nearly getting buried alive in Iran to photograph an elaborate Rosetta’s stone-like thing that would allow her to translate a map that she believes will lead her to the stone, the determined young scientist – who has several PhDs to her credit despite her youth – heads to Paris to find George (Feldman) who can translate the Aramaic and allow the symbols to be properly read.

George, once abandoned in Turkey by Scarlett so that she could continue her quest, is less than enthusiastic about helping her and her omnipresent cameraman Benji (Hodge) who is documenting the search. However, he agrees to put her in contact with urban spelunkers Papillon (Civil), Souxie (Lambert) and Zed (Marhyar) who agree to lead her to the place on her map even though it appears on no credible maps of the catacombs.

Once they get down there beyond the paths where tourists tread, strange things begin to happen. George, who is forced to join them by circumstances beyond his control, is definitely uneasy and Benji who is a bit claustrophobic is downright ready to turn on his heels and head back to the world above, sense that there is something not quite right and Papillon, who knows the area better than anyone except for La Taupe (Castro), a mole-like spelunker who went down into a forbidden tunnel and never was seen again. Of course, you know which tunnel they’re going to head down into – and where it leads may be the last place anyone rational wants to go.

Right now is a really good time to be a horror film, with an abundance of talented young up-and-coming directors showing immense promise and delivering in some cases some extraordinary horror films. While Dowdle qualifies as the former, his latest effort doesn’t qualify as the latter but don’t be put off – this is a very solid and entertaining horror movie that takes full advantage of its setting.

The cast is largely unknown although Mad Men fans might recognize Feldman but do solid jobs in roles that are fairly rote horror characters. I have to say Marhyar has one of the best “oh, crap!” expressions I’ve seen ever. It does make for occasional comedy relief.

The film is presented in a found footage format, which to my mind was totally unnecessary. We spend large chunks of time wandering down tunnels lit by headlamps and flashlights. Sure, this can be creepy but over the course of an hour and a half it gets old, plus because much of the movie is shot with GoPro devices the image quality is murky in places.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an off-the-charts creepiness factor going on here and Dowdle knows what he’s doing when it comes to ratcheting up the tension to high levels. While there is a lot here that’s unremarkable, overall this is a much better than average movie when it comes to horror and in a year where the bar has been set fairly high for big studio horror pictures this one comes in right in the middle of the pack.

REASONS TO GO: Genuinely creepy setting. Some terrific scares.
REASONS TO STAY: Found footage is definitely passé and in this case, unnecessary. Could have shaved about ten minutes off.
FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of terror and violence, some of it bloody. There’s also pretty much non-stop cursing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first movie to be released in Legendary’s new deal with Universal after years at Warner Brothers.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/13/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 28% positive reviews. Metacritic: 38/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Intermedio
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Mood Indigo