Review: ‘A Girl From Mogadishu,’ starring Aja Naomi King

July 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Aja Naomi King in “A Girl From Mogadishu” (Photo by Seamus Murphy/Pembridge Pictures)

“A Girl From Mogadishu” 

Directed by Mary McGuckian

English and Somalian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Somalia and Ireland, the drama “A Girl From Mogadishu” (based on a true story) has a racially diverse cast (white and black) representing Somalian natives and refugees and Irish politicians and social workers.

Culture Clash:  Ifrah Ahmed escapes war-torn Somalia for a life in Ireland, where she becomes a social activist campaigning to outlaw female genital mutilation.

Culture Audience: “A Girl From Mogadishu” will appeal primarily to people who like stories about social justice issues and immigrants who overcome difficult challenges.

Barkhad Abdi and Aja Naomi King in “A Girl From Mogadishu” (Photo by Seamus Murphy/Pembridge Pictures)

The dramatic film “A Girl From Mogadishu” (written and directed by Mary McGuckian) takes on two very difficult subjects—war-torn Somalia and the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation (FGM)—and tells the story from the perspective of someone who’s experienced both in real life. The movie is a biography of Ifrah Ahmed, who fled Somalia when she was 15. She ended up in Ireland, and became a leading activist in a campaign to outlaw FGM, which has been a forced ritual (mostly inflicted on underage girls) in African cultures for centuries.

Aja Naomi King (who is American) gives a compelling performance as Ifrah, from the ages of 15 to her 20s. The entire movie has her voiceover narration, which works well in some scenes, but doesn’t work in others. The movie begins on December 28, 2006, with Ifrah running for her life on the day that’s known as the Fall of Mogadishu, when the militaries of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and Ethiopian troops invaded the Somali capital.

Ifrah becomes separated from her family (her grandmother, her father and her brother) after the military raided the family home. She ends up in an empty house, where three military soldiers rape her. Ifrah has an aunt who lives in Minnesota, so Ifrah thinks her best chance for a life outside of Somalia is to go to the United States to live with her aunt.

Ifrah boards a bus to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. From there, she plans to go to the United States. But she has a close call in Addis Ababa when she finds out that she boarded the wrong bus, which is controlled by a sex trafficker.

She runs away from the wrong bus and boards another bus, which leads her to a family with a son named Hassan (played by Barkhad Abdi), who tells Ifrah that he can take her to the United States. The movie doesn’t make it clear how Ifrah was able to pay for this service, since it’s obvious that Hassan isn’t going to all this trouble out of the goodness of his own heart. This missing detail is an example of one of the flaws in this movie’s screenplay.

Hassan provides Ifrah with a passport and specific instructions to follow him and imitate what he does when they’re at the airport. It’s the first time that Ifrah ever gets on an escalator and goes on an airplane, so she’s understandably terrified. But when Ifrah and Hassan leave Ethiopia, they don’t arrive in the United States. They arrive in Ireland’s capital city of Dublin instead.

Ifrah is angry and confused over why Hassan lied to her, but he explains that Ifrah cannot stay with her aunt in Minnesota because her aunt is not a legal immigrant in the United States. Hassan tells Ifrah that she can seek asylum in Ireland. And then he drops her off in the cold winter night at a Dublin Asylum Seekers’ Center with nothing more than a note written in English with her name and why she needs asylum.

Because she is an unaccompanied minor seeking asylum, Ifrah is put into a group home called Ashton House and is placed under the care of social workers. She experiences major culture shock, not only because she can’t speak English but also because she has difficulty adjusting to the type of food that’s eaten in Ireland. In one scene, when a male social worker laughs at how Ifrah eats a bowl of cornflakes with her bare hands, she gets irritated and throws a shoe at him.

Ifrah is reprimanded, but she is able to communicate with the social worker that what she’s really frustrated about is not being able to speak English. With the help of a Somalian translator at Ashton House, Ifrah is able to better communicate with the staff. Ifrah has also become friends with another Somalian refugee at Ashton House. Her new friend is Amala (played by Martha Canga Antonio), and they both help each other learn English.

Ifrah’s life takes an unexpected and dramatic turn when she has her first medical exam in Ireland. The doctors are shocked to find out about her FGM. At first, Ifrah mistakenly thinks that their horrified reaction is because they think she’s HIV-positive. The doctors tell her she’s not HIV-positive and that they’re upset by the mutilation of her genital area. Ifrah replies, “This is my culture.”

However, when Ifrah figures out that FGM is not normal and is a major stigma in cultures outside of Africa, she’s overwhelmed by shame and starts sobbing uncontrollably. The next thing you know, there’s a flash forward to Ifrah as an anti-FGM activist giving a speech to a group of politicians. This sudden flash-forward scene is a little jarring and an example of better editing choices that director McGuckian could have made, since the movie keeps jumping back and forth in time in a way that doesn’t always transition smoothly.

The rest of the movie shows Ifrah’s anti-FGM activism and the increased progress and media attention that she and her allies received for this issue. With the help of Ireland’s Labour Party politicians Emer Costello (played by Orla Brady) and her husband Joe Costello (played by Stanley Townsend), Ifrah was able to get FGM outlawed in Ireland. And, accompanied by a NGO (non-governmental organization) rep (played by Luke Spencer Roberts), Ifrah travels to Africa to further her cause to get FGM banned.

The movie also depicts how Ifrah eventually opened up and went public with all the harrowing details of what happened to her during her FGM torture. She was mutilated at 8 years old with several other girls, and they were tied up for 40 days with a very limited ability to urinate. One of the girls got a urinary tract infection and died.

There’s a scene where Ifrah goes back to Somalia to confront her grandmother for allowing the FGM to happen to Ifrah. Hassan pops up out of nowhere and tells Ifrah, “Good girls keep things private and don’t talk.” Ifrah replies defiantly, “I will not be silenced! Not now, not ever, not even for my family!”

“A Girl From Mogadishu” has an important story to tell, but there are some flaws in how it’s told. The dialogue and narration are often simplistic and predictable. And the movie needed better editing, so that the story didn’t seem so choppy and jumbled during the flashback and flash-forward scenes. However, the acting, especially from King in the lead role, elevates the often-trite screenplay. Her performance is worth watching, even if she has to say a lot of lines that could have been written better.

The production design (by Emma Pucci) and costume design (by Nathalie Leborgne) complement the movie very well. For example, the film does a convincing recreation of Barack Obama’s 2011 visit to Ireland, with Ifrah among the thousands of people who went to see him give an outdoor speech in Dublin. Ifrah is also involved in doing fashion shows to raise money for her cause. Those fashion shows are depicted quite nicely in the film.

There are many scenes in “A Girl From Mogadishu” that look like a made-for-TV movie instead of a truly cinematic experience. Despite its flaws, “A Girl From Mogadishu” has emotional authenticity and respect for the traumatic subject matter (the real Ifrah Ahmed was a consultant for the movie), considering that FGM is rarely acknowledged in narrative feature films. This movie will help make people more aware that trying to stop FGM is not just a “women’s issue.” It’s also about human rights.

Showtime Women premiered “A Girl From Mogadishu” on July 15, 2020, and the movie is available on Showtime’s on-demand platforms. Pembridge Pictures will release the film internationally from November 25, 2020 to December 10, 2020.

Review: ‘Artemis Fowl,’ starring Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Colin Farrell and Judi Dench

June 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in “Artemis Fowl” (Photo by Nicola Dove/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Artemis Fowl”

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and a magical underground world, the fantasy adventure “Artemis Fowl” has a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black and Asian) who portray humans, fairies, dwarves and goblins.

Culture Clash: A 12-year-old boy named Artemis Fowl , who must save his kidnapped father from an evil fairy, kidnaps a good fairy as bait for the ransom, setting off a battle between fairies and humans.

Culture Audience: “Artemis Fowl” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Artemis Fowl” book series who won’t mind watching a movie adaptation that is inferior to the books’ storytelling.

Judi Dench in “Artemis Fowl” (Photo by courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

The “Harry Potter” books and films have set the bar pretty high for what can be achieved in making young-adult fantasy novels into movies. By comparison, “Artemis Fowl” is a mediocre mess of a film that clearly spent a lot of time on visual effects but not enough time in doing justice to the kind of storytelling that author Eoin Colfer has in his “Artemis Fowl” books. Almost everything that happens in the “Artemis Fowl” movie can be predicted by people in their sleep.

The long-delayed “Artemis Fowl” movie was supposed to be released in theaters, but instead was released directly to the Disney+ streaming service, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who’s hit-and-miss artistically when it comes to his big-budget films), “Artemis Fowl” isn’t the worst fantasy film that someone can ever see, but it’s a disappointing movie, considering the level of talent involved. Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl wrote the clunky “Artemis Fowl” screenplay, which is supposed to be an origin story, but the movie is highly unlikely to get a sequel.

The story takes place in Ireland, in an alternate modern reality where humans live above ground, while fairies and other creatures live in a below-ground place called Haven City. The movie begins with the news media in a frenzy because several priceless artifacts from around the world have been stolen. The chief suspect is a reclusive businessman/art dealer named Artemis Fowl Sr. (played by Colin Farrell), who lives in a mansion called Fowl Manor and who has mysteriously disappeared.

However, a suspected accomplice has been arrested: an oversized, thieving dwarf named Mulch Diggums (played by Josh Gad), who’s self-conscious over the fact that he’s much taller and bigger than the average dwarf. Mulch is taken to the MI6 Red Fort Interrogation Unit in Thames Estuary, London, where he begins to tell the story of Artemis Fowl Jr. (played by Ferdia Shaw), a precocious 12-year-old loner who’s frequently left to his own devices because his father goes away for long periods of time on secretive trips.

The Artemis Fowl father and son have a close relationship, but Artemis Jr. feels hurt and left out that his father won’t tell him where he’s going on these trips and exactly when he’ll be back. (Artemis Jr.’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the story.) Artemis Jr. has a friend/mentor/bodyguard named Domovoi Butler (played by Nonzo Anozie), who tells people that he hates to be called a butler. Domovoi has a relationship with Artemis Jr. that’s similar to the “Batman” story relationship between Alfred the butler and Bruce Wayne/Batman.

As Mulch tells it, Artemis Jr. doesn’t like school very much. He’s considered “different” and has found it difficult to make friends. There’s somewhat of an unnecessary scene where Artemis Jr. is talking to a school counselor, and then Artemis storms out because he thinks the counselor doesn’t understand him and the session is a waste of time.

Considering that Artemis Jr. spends the rest of the movie fighting battles like an adult, going to school isn’t a priority to him. It also didn’t make sense to show him at school in this movie because a kid like Artemis Fowl would probably be homeschooled, considering his father’s secretive and reclusive life. Why bother with nosy teachers and students?

At any rate, Artemis Jr. soon gets a phone call from the evil fairy who’s kidnapped his father. Let that sink in for a few seconds and try not to laugh at how dumb that plot sounds. We’ll have to assume they have caller ID blocking in Haven City.

The evil fairy tells Artemis Jr. that his father will be killed unless the fairy (an unnamed androgynous creature who’s in disguise with the creature’s face obscured) gets the ransom: a magical object called the Aculos, which has the power to open portals across the universe. The evil fairy tells Artemis Sr. that he’s been kidnapped as revenge for causing the deaths of some other fairies.

Artemis Jr. then comes up with a somewhat convoluted plan to get the good fairies of Haven City to help him find the Aculos. How? By kidnapping a fairy named Holly Short (played  by Lara McDonnell), an enforcement officer who’s supposed to be 84 years old in fairy years, but she looks close to the age of Artemis Jr. (All of the fairies are human-sized.)

The good fairies, led by gravel-voiced Commander Root (played by Judi Dench, in yet another no-nonsense, unsmiling role), then descend upon Fowl Manor to rescue Holly. The fairies have the magical power of creating a force field around a certain area, where everyone in the force field can be temporarily frozen and have their memories erased.

This power is demonstrated in a scene where a giant troll crashes a wedding reception in Italy and attempts to kidnap a child and the good fairies come to the rescue. It’s an example of how this unfocused movie literally jumps all over the place.

But apparently, having magical powers isn’t enough for the fairies, because they also have a massive technology center at Haven City, complete with huge video monitors and computers. How very Earth-like. Except it’s not, because their chief technology officer is a fairy centaur named Foaly (played by Nikesh Patel).

And who else has teamed up with Artemis Jr. and Domovoi to help them fight off this large army of fairies? Domovoi’s 12-year-old niece Juliet Butler (played by Tamara Smart), who’s got martial-arts combat skills. The three allies are outnumbered, but they have some tech gadgets and guns for their battles—although the guns don’t seem to actually kill anyone, because Disney can’t have a movie with 12-year-old kids on a murder spree.

Mulch’s narration comes and goes in the story, which includes a scene of Mulch in a prison cell full of goblins who are hostile to him. It’s an example of a poorly written scene that seems to have no purpose other than to show Mulch in an uncomfortable situation and the visual effects of when he uses his magical ability to over-expand his mouth.

All of the actors do a serviceable job in their roles, although McDonnell frequently outshines her co-stars in her scenes. There are a few lines that might give people a chuckle, such as when a gruff Commander Root barks to subordinates, “Get the four-leaf clover out of here!” The way she slightly pauses before she says “four-leaf clover” makes it clear she could have said another “f” word, and then it would definitely not be a Disney movie,

The visual effects and production design of “Artemis Fowl” are good-enough, but they won’t be nominated for any major awards. Because there is so little character development in the movie, the action scenes are really what bring the most appeal to the film. Kids under the age of 10 might enjoy “Artemis Fowl,” but people with more discerning taste in fantasy films won’t find “Artemis Fowl” very impressive. “Artemis Fowl” might just make people want to watch an old “Harry Potter” movie instead.

Disney+ premiered “Artemis Fowl” on June 12, 2020.

Review: ‘End of Sentence,’ starring John Hawkes and Logan Lerman

May 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

John Hawkes and Logan Lerman in “End of Sentence” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“End of Sentence”

Directed by Elfar Adalsteins

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and briefly in Alabama, the drama “End of Sentence” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After his wife dies, a father tries to reconnect with his estranged ex-convict son, as they travel to Ireland to spread her ashes for her last dying wish.

Culture Audience: “End of Sentence” will appeal primarily to people who like emotionally authentic dramas about difficult family relationships.

John Hawkes and Sarah Bolger in “End of Sentence” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“End of Sentence” is one of those movies that has a unique family story to tell, but so much of the story is universally relatable to people, regardless of what kind of families they have. There are multiple layers to the relationship between the father and son at the center of the story—and that’s why “End of Sentence” should not be considered just another road-trip movie.

The story begins in Alabama, where American salesman Frank Fogle (played by John Hawkes) and his Irish-born wife Anna Fogle (played by Andrea Irvine) are visiting their only child, Sean Fogle (played by Logan Lerman), in Alabama Correctional Facility, where Sean has been locked up for auto theft. Anna is wearing a head scarf, which a prison employee tells her to remove due to prison rules. It’s obvious that she’s bald underneath the scarf, and she removes it with some self-conscious hesitation.

When Anna and Frank meet with Sean in the prison, Anna’s words to Sean confirm that she does have a terminal illness, when she says to Sean, “I’ve come to say goodbye.” Sean seems to be a hardened criminal, but he does show some affection when his mother hugs him. However, Sean’s demeanor toward his father very cold and detached.

The next time that Frank sees Sean again, it’s the day that Sean has been released from prison. Frank is now a widower, but the loss of his wife hasn’t brought this father and son closer together. In fact, when Frank shows up to give Sean a ride, Sean is so angry and dismissive toward Frank, that Sean tosses aside a sack of new clothes that Frank brought to him, by throwing the clothes in a nearby garbage can.

Sean also refuses to get in Frank’s car. But before Sean drives off with a police officer who gives him a ride, Frank tells Sean that it was Anna’s dying wish that Frank and Sean take a road trip together to spread her ashes out on a lake in Ireland. Andrea also has some property in Ireland that she left to Sean in her will, and Frank wants Sean to view the property in order to decide to keep it or sell it. However, Sean flat-out refuses to take the trip.

Frank and Anna seem like kind-hearted and compassionate people who tried to raise their son the right way. Why is Sean so ill-tempered and disrespectful to his father? That answer is revealed later in the film, when Sean and Frank are on their trip in Ireland.

Sean changed his mind about going on the trip because after getting out of prison, he found it difficult to find a job due to his prison record. However, through a prison-release program, Sean did get a job offer to start work at an electronics warehouse—but it’s in Oakland, California, and Sean needs financial help from his father to move there. And that’s why Sean reluctantly decided to go on the trip with Frank. But they’re under a time crunch, because Sean has to start this new job in five days, or else the job will be given to someone else.

When they arrive in Ireland, Frank and Sean go to a car rental place, where they’re attended to by a female clerk. And it isn’t long before their opposite personalities begin to clash. When they’re in the car, Frank chastises Sean for staring at the female clerk’s breasts while she was helping them. Frank tells Sean: “You should show respect to give respect. I should know—I’ve been in sales all of my life.”

This lecture sets off Sean, who’s been simmering with anger toward his father, to verbally lash out at Frank. Sean tells Frank that he shouldn’t talk about respect because Frank let himself be bullied by his own father, who was an abusive alcoholic. Sean lets Frank know that he doesn’t respect Frank for how Frank let his own father mistreat him and others.

It’s revealed later that there’s more to this story of why Sean is so resentful toward Frank: Frank’s father used Sean as a “human ashtray,” by putting lit cigarettes out his skin, when Sean was a child and alone with his paternal grandfather. Frank found out, and Sean is still very angry over how Frank handled everything. The details of Frank’s reaction to this child abuse are revealed further in the story.

Even without this child abuse in Sean’s background, it’s very clear how dissimilar Frank and Sean are to each other when it comes to dealing with life. Frank is very calm, non-confrontational and doesn’t like taking risks. Sean is quick-tempered, tends to pick fights and is a big risk-taker.

For example, when they’re eating together at a diner, they both order hamburgers, but Frank was served a hamburger that was different than what he ordered. Sean tells Frank to berate the server and demand to get the hamburger that he ordered, but Frank refuses, and instead removes some of the unwanted ingredients from the hamburger and eats it without a fuss.

To make matters even more tension-filled, Frank and Sean have to share a hotel room together (with separate beds), which isn’t an ideal situation, but it’s an indication that they’re on a limited budget. Meanwhile, Frank tells Sean something that Sean doesn’t really want to hear: While they’re in Ireland, they have to attend an Irish wake for Andrea.

The wake (which is held at the bar of the hotel where Frank and Sean are staying) is attended by her family members who could not go to the Andrea’s funeral in America. Sean feels out-of-place because it’s his first time in Ireland, and he doesn’t know anyone there besides his father. But at the bar counter, he notices a pretty blonde sitting by herself. They look at each other in a way that people do in movies where you know that these two are going to hook up later.

Meanwhile, a grieving Frank is surprised to find out at the wake that Andrea had an ex-boyfriend in Ireland whom she ran off with during a rebellious time in her life, before she met Frank. The ex-boyfriend’s name is Ronan Quinn, and Frank is told that Ronan’s family owns a horse-breeding farm. An old Polaroid photograph that Frank sees at the wake shows Ronan and Andrea on Ronan’s motorcycle.

This photograph, combined with the realization that he didn’t know as much about Andrea’s past as he thought he did, triggers Frank to find out more about Ronan. The movie veers into this subplot for a while, but it doesn’t lose focus from the real story, which is how this trip is going to affect Frank and Sean’s relationship.

After the wake, Frank and Sean go back to their hotel room where Frank is ready to go to sleep. But Sean is feeling restless and irritated, so he heads back to the hotel bar. The blonde who locked eyes with him earlier is still there by herself, so Sean goes up and introduces himself to her. She says her name is Jewel.

It isn’t long before Sean and Jewel have a somewhat flirtatious conversation. He tells her why he’s in Ireland, while she confesses that she’s just left a physically abusive boyfriend and she’s now homeless and trying to figure out what to do next. Therefore, it’s not much of a surprise that these troubled and lonely people end up making out in the back seat of Frank and Sean’s rental car.

But before things get too intense, a drunk Sean vomits outside the car, thereby ruining the sexy mood of the encounter. An embarrassed Sean tells Jewel that she can leave if she wants, but she decides to stay. They spend the night together in the car.

The next morning, Frank sees that Sean has spent the night in the back of the car with a woman who’s basically a stranger. Some awkward introductions are made, and Sean asks Frank (who’s the authorized driver for the car rental) if they can give Jewel a ride to where she need to go. Frank refuses because he doesn’t want to violate the car policy of picking up hitchhikers.

But when Frank has trouble starting the car, and Jewel (who says she knows cars because her father’s a mechanic) easily fixes the problem, it’s not a surprise that Frank relents, and Jewel is now along for the ride. The rest of the movie takes a few twists and turns (some more predictable than others) in showing how this decision affects the rest of their journey.

One of the best things about “End of Sentence” (which was written by Michael Armbruster) is that it avoids the pitfalls of many road-trip movies that overstuff the story with a lot of wacky characters and over-the-top situations. Everything that happens in “End of Sentence” is entirely believable, which makes the human emotions in the story even more poignant. The movie doesn’t feel overly scripted, because not every moment in the movie serves a big purpose the way that some movies cynically set up a scene purely for melodrama.

Hawkes and Lerman give commendable performances as this estranged father and son trying to find some of peace of mind while navigating the tensions of their relationship. Hawkes is a terrific character actor who doesn’t need a flashy role to show how talented he is. The way that he expresses the essence of Frank Fogle through his eyes and body language speak volumes more than what a lot of dialogue might convey. Lerman also skillfully handles the more complicated character of Sean, who might seem like a person who’s always angry at the world, but Sean’s relationship with Jewel reveals a vulnerable side to him that makes it clear that his anger masks deep-rooted insecurities.

And who is this mysterious Jewel? The movie shows more details about her and how her presence affects the relationship between Frank and Sean. There’s a scene in the movie where Jewel, Frank, and Sean are all seated at the same table at a restaurant/bar. Jewel comforts Frank, who’s feeling insecure about wondering that his late wife Anna’s relationship was like with her ex-boyfriend Ronan. Jewel tells Frank, “We might go on rides with rebels, but it’s the kind-hearted ones we spend our lives with.”

The look on Sean’s face and what happens afterward tell a lot about how Sean feels about himself compared to his father. It’s one of the reasons why “End of Sentence” is so good at revealing layers to the story, instead of throwing it all at viewers in an obvious way. The title of the film could refer to the end of Sean’s prison sentence, but it’s also clear that the real prison sentence in this story is holding on to anger and resentment that can poison a relationship with a loved one.

Gravitas Ventures released “End of Sentence” on digital and VOD on May 29, 2020.

Aloft Hotels set to open in Dublin City in 2018

January 17, 2017
Aloft Hotels

Aloft Hotels will open a new location brand in in Dublin’s historic Liberties quarter in the spring of 2018. The deal is part of a franchise agreement with Blackpitts Hospitality Limited. Aloft Dublin City will be operated by Dublin-based Pembroke Hospitality Limited.

Aloft Dublin City will be eight stories tall and have 202 loft-like guest rooms with platform beds, walk-in showers and complimentary Bliss amenities. Guests can also expect the brand’s signature WXYZ bar, a public space where they can catch up on emails, read the papers, play a game of pool or grab a drink with friends, The hotel will also have Re:mixSM lounge.The WXYZ® bar and Re:mixSM lounge will be situated on the top floor of the hotel, making the most of the panoramic city views.

Aloft Dublin City will offer SPG Keyless that enables guests to use their smartphone or Apple watch as a room key. Other features will include a Re:chargeSM fitness centre; Re:fuelSM by Aloft, a convenient 24-hour deli option for those on the go; as well as two modern meeting spaces supported by an In-Touc’ business area. Fast and free Wi-Fi will be available throughout the property.

Two independently operated retail spaces will be located on the ground level with direct access from the street. There will also be on-site parking facilities for hotel guests and visitors.