Film

'The Iran Job': To Change the Situation Here

Living with daily restrictions on her movements and her speech in Shiraz, Iran, Laleh explains, "Somewhere else I might gain some freedom. I prefer to stay and try to change the situation here."


The Iran Job

Director: Till Shauder
Cast: Kevin Sheppard, Leah Sheppard, Zoran "Z" Milicic, Kami Jamshidvand, Elaheh, Hilda, Laleh
Rated: NR
Studio: Partner Pictures, Fork Films & The Post Republic
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-09-30 (Maysles Cinema)
Website
Trailer

Editor's note: The Iran Job is open now in Los Angeles and screening on 30 September at Maysles' Jock Docs series, followed by a Q&A with producer Sara Nodjoum. It opens at New York's IFC Center on 12 October.

As a star point guard at Jacksonville University, Kevin Sheppard was looking at a bright future. Indeed, as he says at the start of The Iran Job, "I thought I had a great shot at making it to the NBA." When that shot doesn't pan out, he seeks work elsewhere, namely, playing for teams outside the US, for instance, in China, Brazil, and Israel. He makes a journeyman's living, which is to say, his paycheck ranges from fine to uncertain. When, in 2008, he's recruited by A.S. Shiraz, a team in Iran, he's hesitant. "I'm nervous," he says, "'cause I want to get the hell over there and come back." And so he goes, with a film crew to boot, and ends up with a far more complex and immense reward than he can imagine.

The Iran Job reveals Kevin's changing perspective. When he lands in Shiraz, in Southwestern Iran, the camera shows murals denouncing America, a black-skeletal Statue of Liberty and "Down With the USA" in English. "The teams have to offer double the money," Kevin observes, "because people are scared to play in Iran."

Even apart from politics, there's culture: Kevin and his new roommate, the seven-foot Zoran Milicic from Serbia, complain that they have to wait over a month for promised access to the internet (worse, when it comes, Kevin says, most of the channels are pornographic, which he doesn't need to be watching in a tiny apartment with another dude). The team is feeble too: during an early practice, Kevin is so frustrated that he walks out ("This shit ain't basketball"). When the coach prevails on him to commit to the near impossible project of making the playoffs, Kevin becomes in essence an assistant coach, helping players on and off the court.

This project takes up much of Kevin's energy and focus, no doubt, and the film delivers a few too many game and practice montages. He remarks on the odd behavior of the fans: they're segregated by gender (boys on one side of the court, girls on the other), and "For some reason, they're a little bit more crazy" than American fans, singing and dancing, no matter the action on the court. "It's like stress relief," Kevin observes. Kevin endures his own stress, instructed not to speak to reporters and also suffering an ankle injury.

Here The Iran Job takes a turn, as Kevin heads to the doctor's and meets Hilda, his physical therapist and first Iranian friend. In turn, she introduces him to Laleh and Elaheh, and soon the foursome, along with Z -- all in their 20s -- are spending evenings in the men's apartment. This even though it's illegal for women to visit men's quarters, and so they risk arrest, imprisonment, and beating. As the women describe their frustrations to Kevin, he comes to see beyond the usual demonization of Iran to what his friends want to preserve and also to change. "Somewhere else I might gain some freedom," Laleh explains, "I prefer to stay and try to change the situation here."

Kevin undergoes his own changes, between missing Leah when he calls home and working with his erratic but increasingly determined teammates. He's also becoming more aware -- thanks to his friends and what little internet they manage -- to see what's happening in the Iranian streets, as the Green Movement is taking hold. He's especially moved by the girls' resolve, their broad and sophisticated perspectives and their focus on details. Driving with Elaheh, he's impressed at her multi-tasking (determined to look up a word he's just used, she pulls out phone's dictionary and starts hitting keys, "texting, typing, driving," all at the same time).

The film too provides an alternative view, most often thanks to Elaheh, who travels with the camera even without Kevin. "It is my dream to be a movie star," she says, "But my father didn’t let me and I'm not a movie star now." She smiles, a little sadly, contemplating a possible move to Tehran, which her father also forbids. When her phone rings, she translates for her companion, that it's her mother, angry at her for being out late. "She says," reports Elaheh, "'You're a bad girl.'"

The film here indicates the complications Elaheh and her friends face each day, their efforts to follow their parents' edicts but also to explore the world around them, a world they can't help but see and imagine now. At the basketball games, at work or on touristy excursions with Kevin and Z, the girls are enthusiastic and vibrant, thrilled by each new experience. The boys, in turn, come to recognize both their own privilege and deprivations in new lights: Z describes the effects of US bombing on his country, and Kevin compares black history in the US with what young people in Iran are going through. "I know what standing up for your rights is all about," he says, "And I know it can lead to something."

Where it may lead is not so clear, a point made when Kevin leaves Iran. He keeps in touch with his friends by skype, introducing them to Leah and promising to come back. The girls hover together in the computer frame, their faces shadowed. It's a remarkable image, shot from over Kevin's shoulder, hopeful and inspiring and also haunting.

8

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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