CHARLES AZNAVOUR: 1924-2018

Charles Aznavour (Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian), the Paris-born Armenian singer-songwriter, actor, and diplomat, who was known as “France’s Frank Sinatra”, died this month, on October 1st, 2018.

Born in 1924 to Armenian immigrants who’d fled to France amid Turkey’s perpetration of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Armenians in the early 20thcentury, Aznavour was raised by a family of artists. His father was a singer, performing in French restaurants prior to opening his own.

Aznavour dropped out of school at a young age of nine to pursue his career as an entertainer — before his 10th birthday, he’d already starred in a movie and a theater production. Despite his young age, Aznavour insisted that he was never pressured or forced to become a performer. To him, it was a natural calling. “People say that they put me on the stage, but I put myself there. It was natural. It was what I wanted to do.” 

Aznavour later shifted his focus to professional dancing. He didn’t write his first song until the age of 24 in 1950.

He got his big break when he began opening for the legendary French singer, Edith Piaf. After his distinctive rich, mellow voice caught her attention, Piaf took Aznavour under her wing, mentoring the young virtuoso. Piaf advised Aznavour to pursue a singing career.

Aznavour went on to command a career lasting 80 years. He wrote a whopping 1000 songs, sold 180 million albums, and dazzled audiences in sold-out auditoriums well into his 90’s. He sang in an astounding 8 different languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Armenian, and Neapolitan.

Aznavour’s music knew no boundaries, touching upon an eclectic range of themes.

He wrote songs that by any standard were ahead of their time. In “What Makes a Man” (1972), Aznavour sang about a gay transvestite. The lyrics are overall great but especially outstanding are the lines, “Nobody has the right to be; the judge of what is right for me; tell me if you can; what make a man a man.”

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REVIEW: STAR WARS THE LAST JEDI

In George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy, fans were immersed in a vast and uncharted universe rife with relics of the late Jedi order. The first film, “A New Hope,” introduced and set the stage for the main protagonists and antagonists with drips of detail to induce intrigue and wonder in the audience. Following sequels provided sustenance for fans’ fervor, delving deeper into the characters and connecting storylines.

With 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” Disney played it safe. Director JJ Abrams effectively stuck to the same script (almost literally) as “A New Hope,” and the film was highly enjoyable – discounting its lack of original storytelling, and the fact that our hero Luke Skywalker had been reduced to retirement in what could only be described as the Florida of the vast Star Wars universe.

Now on to “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.” Before I go any further, the review will contain major spoilers. There was a slew of weaknesses in the plot (and this is aside from the fact that the movie felt drudgingly dragged out at times) that can’t be pointed out without giving anything away. But don’t be disparaged, I’m saving you from having to sit through a 152-minute long mess.

Spoilers Ahead!

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REVIEW: The Promise: A Powerful, Memorable Film

With “The Promise,” filmmaker Terry George, known for his 2004 Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda,” set out to tell the story of 20th century’s first genocide.

Following the timeline of events that led to the Ottoman Empire’s perpetration of genocide against the Armenian population in 1915, the plot is centered around a love triangle between an Armenian student named Mikael Boghosian (played by Oscar Isaac), an Armenian from Paris named Ana Khesarian (played by Charlotte Le Bon) and an American reporter named Chris Myers (played superbly by Christian Bale).

Leaving his small Armenian village in the Ottoman Empire, Boghosian travels to the Turkish capital Constantinople to study medicine.

The film depicts Turkish-Armenian relations at a high point (“high” is meant in the vaguest sense). Many Turks still held venomously racist views towards Armenians, but they went to the same universities, lived in the same cities and shopped in the same markets (when walking through the market, a Turk exclaimed to him, “that Armenian pig will rip you off.”)

Shortly after, as the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War, Turkish aggression against the Armenian population became a mainstay of government policy. This film portrayed this accurately, as the blueprints for Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich soon spread to every village in the Ottoman Empire.

Turkish officers began rounding up Armenian intellectuals and businesspersons, executing them on a whim. Boghosian was yanked out of medical school and sent to a labor camp where he was effectively starved, and made to work while awaiting execution.

Miraculously, Boghosian escaped. Following his harrowing journey back to his home village in an attempt to save his family, the film vividly portrays the horrors of the Armenian genocide. From cargo trains packed full of prisoners, to their coerced death march through the desert where they were executed.

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REVIEW: ‘Rogue One’ Is Far More Conservative Than Liberal

It’s here! Rogue One is the new Star Wars movie you’ve been longing for since Return of the Jedi. This is truly the prequel fans of the series deserve.

Albeit still a great movie, last year’s Star Wars: Force Awakens was effectively a shot-for-shot remake of A New Hope. Where Force Awakens fell short on originality, Rogue One more than makes up.

I will keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, giving nothing significant away that’s not in the trailer.

Rogue One takes place just before Episode IV, A New Hope and after Episode III, Revenge of the Sith.

The plot centers around The Rebel Alliance, a coalition of tribes across the galaxy who’ve banded together in the face of the tyrannical, oppressive Galactic Empire and its expansionist ambitions.

With their very own Igor Kurchatov, the Galactic Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star is nearly complete. Capable of destroying entire planets, the weapon poses an existential threat to the Empire’s dissidents.

And so, the Rebel Alliance forms a special team to track down and retrieve the Death Star’s blueprints to find a weakness in the superweapon and give the Rebellion a fighting chance.

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REVIEW: War Dogs

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster arms dealer.”

War Dogs is an entertaining, fast-paced and well-timed action comedy set in the Bush era, directed by Todd Phillips.

The Hangover director took several pages out of Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic, Goodfellas, and for old time’s sake, a few out of the Democrat Party handbook to go along with the Bush era.

If like me, you were hoping Todd Phillips would’ve resisted turning to anti-war, left-wing tropes (given how Bush has been out of office for EIGHT YEARS now), you’ll be slightly let down.

As the main character, played by Jonah Hill said, “I’m against the war. I f—king hate Bush. But this isn’t about being pro-war. This is about being pro-money,” and “War is an economy. Anyone body who tells you otherwise is stupid”

If you thought the Iraq war had anything to do with freeing Iraqis under the thumb of a barbaric butcher, spreading democracy or protecting America’s freedom, you’d be a total schmuck, as War Dogs bluntly lays out.

War is an economy. That’s it! Case closed. George W. Bush went to war after 9/11 for money, and America was never hit by another large-scale terrorist attack between September 12, 2001, and the day he left office because of all the money he made. Or something.

The good news is, by now you’ve likely heard these same talking points from the left ad nauseum, and can drown them out subconsciously.

The rest of War Dogs is highly enjoyable. It’s a classic rise and fall story.

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REVIEW: ‘Sausage Party’ Raunchy, Irreverent, Lazy But At Times Hilarious

Seth Rogen, the writer behind Superbad and Pineapple Express, among other stoner cinemas has turned to animation in his latest movie. Sausage Party is a raunchy, crude and, at times, hilarious shock-comedy for adults.

Bringing to life the produce section, and all 20-something aisles of your local grocery store, Sausage Party is set in a world in which food items are alive, self-aware and relish (pun intended) in profanity and sexual innuendos.

The food items believe their great destiny lies in being picked off the shelf by shoppers, taken to their homes and to salvation. As the main character, Frank (a sausage voiced by Seth Rogen) called it, “the Great Beyond.”

After Rogen’s character discovers the ugly truth about what looms on the horizon, past the check-out conveyer, the other food items call him a crazy heretic, instead opt to believe in their comforting concoction.

Sausage Party’s overarching plot is Rogen’s attempt at allegorizing organized religion, and framing its followers as brainwashed buffoons. If you happen to be a stoned Richard Dawkins with a quarter of the IQ, the plot is perfect for you.

That’s not to say the film is bereft of laughs. Far from it.

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REVIEW: ‘Suicide Squad’ Shows Us That Sometimes You Have To Fight Fire With Fire

Suicide Squad, the latest Hollywood superhero blockbuster, picks up where Batman v. Superman left off. Superman is gone, and the US government is left asking themselves: “What happens when another Superman visits Earth, who perhaps does not share our values of freedom and liberty?” (To which John Kerry presumably replies, “We will contain and crush them like we did with ISIS!”)

And hence, the government puts together a special team of meta-humans for that very purpose. The only caveat being that the team is made up of convicted criminals, all of whom were previously locked up in maximum security prison.

When asked about the perils of assembling such a morally unimpressive entourage to protect the nation, the head of the government program replies, “In a world with superman and monsters, this is the only way to protect America”.

This is exactly right. In fact, the antiheroes of Suicide Squad parallel the nuclear arms build-up of the Cold War.

When Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, he accelerated the effort to modernize and expand America’s nuclear arms program. Yes, nuclear weapons were scary, but our enemies were quickly building newer and better ones. Our build-up was in direct response to the rapid growth of the Soviet military and its threat to our national security.

As the film said, “In a world with superman and monsters Soviet nuclear capabilities, this is the only way to protect America”. And it worked! (For proof, see USSR in 2016.)

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