I’ve done some thinking lately about xenophobia in Hollywood. I’ve seen a few movies riddled with it. Midnight Express demonizes Turkey. Return to Paradise paints Malaysia with browns and blacks. Brokedown Palace portrays Thailand in a poor light. Oliver Stone has since apologized to Turkey and its people. Billy Hayes, whom the movie is based, has taken a firm stance of his love for Turkey and its people through interviews and finally returning there in 2007 to further repair the damage that was done by his book and movie adaptation.
Is watching these types of movies going to prevent people from visiting any of these countries? It wouldn’t for me, but it might for some. I’ve seen these movies over ten years ago, but not once did I think of the secondary consequences and influences it might have on viewers. Sure, it reinforced my standard of not smuggling drugs out of foreign countries. Is twenty years harsh punishment for a first offense drug charge? Yes, to me, it is. Is death warranted for a first offense drug charge? No, to me, it isn’t.
I’m less certain if it is careless for a screenwriter or writer to sensationalize a certain ethnic or racial group or write scenes riddled with fictional violence. I used to think it was careless without any room for exceptions. People write what they know, what is familiar to them, and sometimes the topic is open to great criticism. Is giving harsh criticism to a screenwriter or any writer fair when they write from the heart? I’m not sure anymore.
Because of the current racial tensions, I thought about not recommending these movies. Then, I thought I’m letting someone else dictate what is and isn’t suitable for me to watch, and worse yet, blog. We all have opinions and even more so rampant with social media. I realize not everyone is going to agree with me nor do I want this. People aren’t robots without emotions. We don’t need followers without thinking for ourselves. So, I’m thinking for myself in this blog.
Despite the xenophobia and criticism, I’m recommending Midnight Express with Brad Davis as Billy Hayes and Return to Paradise with Joaquin Phoenix as Lewis McBride. I watched them for the stories, but what stayed with me through all these years was the performances by these two actors.
Midnight Express is a movie adaptation from the non-fiction book by the same name. The movie was directed by Alan Parker and written by Oliver Stone. In addition to Davis, there are solid performances by John Hurt and Randy Quaid. The Turkish prison guard, Hamidou, is still excellently played by Paul L. Smith. The movie starts with the arrest of Billy Hayes and progresses with his time spent in a Turkish prison. You see how he deals mentally and physically with his incarceration even during those times when all hope seems gone. Despite the movie being released in 1978, it’s a commentary even today of not going into another country without being fully aware of their culture and laws. The only downfall given by Roger Ebert from Chicago Sun-Times was feeling sorry for Billy Hayes. I was one of the viewers who did feel sorry for him, somewhat, so this reinforces why I’m recommending this solely based on Brad Davis’s performance.
Return to Paradise is a movie written by Wesley Strick and Bruce Robinson. It is a remake from a French movie called Force Majeure from 1989. The movie was directed by Joseph Ruben. The movie is about three friends who visit Malaysia on vacation, and because of their carelessness one is arrested and sent to Malaysian prison. The acting by Vince Vaughn and David Conrad is not on the same caliber as John Hurt, but they served a necessary purpose. Besides the question of whether Lewis McBride will be released from prison, it includes what would you do for your friend. This is when talk flies out the window, and action is the only thing having importance. The major downfall given by Peter Travers from Rollingstone were the B-rated suspense tricks used in the movie. I was one of the viewers who was moved by the emotionally charged ending so this is why I’m recommending this solely based on Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. He’s only gotten better in his roles since this one in 1998.
And there you have it, my long overdue two movie recommendations, and yes I would watch them again.