Film

Forget Baghdad
Directed by Samir
AFD Theatrical, opens December 5, Cinema Village

Samir, the Swiss son of an Iraqi Arab Communist, travels to Tel Aviv to talk to older Iraqi Jews, his father's comrades, about "what it's like to become the enemy of your own past." Grainy video and gimmicky editing give this documentary an amateurish feel, but Samir's charming, rueful interlocutors shine through. Secular intellectuals, they praise the vanished cosmopolitan Iraq of their youth and bite the Zionist hand that brought them "from a palace to a tent," as Moshe Houri, a former kiosk owner, says. Their experience of anti-Mizrachi (Middle Eastern Jew) discrimination, and their leftist rejection of Zionism, place them outside Israel's heroic national story, shown through chipper British newsreels and popular Israeli films. All four speak Arabic, underscoring the tricky negotiations of identity that have marked their lives, while a fifth interviewee, Mizrachi activist and New York cultural-studies professor Ella Shohat, gives her angrier, younger, more academic perspective in English. —Anya Kamenetz


Samir now (inset) and in '30s Baghdad
photo: AFD Theatrical
Samir now (inset) and in '30s Baghdad

The Haunted Mansion
Directed by Rob Minkoff
Walt Disney, in release

Welcome Foolish Mortals," proclaims the opening frame of The Haunted Mansion. Maybe that should read "Foolish Ticket-Buying Mortals," since this new Eddie Murphy movie is lamer than Tiny Tim on a damp London day. Murphy plays Jim Evers, a real estate agent who receives a mysterious offer to rep a decrepit old Louisiana manse. Murphy and family visit the overgrown estate, meet the ashy butler and owner, then spend the night due to a sudden storm. Brushing away cobwebs, the family quickly realizes that their new listing is a creephouse, that their hosts aren't exactly alive, and that the owner has supernatural designs on Mrs. Evers. Cue remaining genre clichés, buff with lush Disney design, add requisite Wally Shawn appearance, and remember to cover your mouth when you yawn. Rob Minkoff has directed a movie that's nearly laughless and nowhere near as frightening as what's happened to Eddie Murphy's career. The only truly scary thing about The Haunted Mansion is that, in the end, real estate brokers triumph. —Brian Parks

 
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