Monday, 24 June 2019

Green Book



I have been trying to catch this for a while - it was well worth the wait. This is an engaging film that draws the viewer in an and in my experience invites them to develop a heart-felt liking for both the lead characters. It's period setting in 1962 New York and the Deep South on the cusp of the civil rights movement is both vibrant and resonant as it shows the best and worst that post-war USA had to offer. It is however a film with some issues.

The credits make it clear that the film is "inspired by a true friendship". The script was part written by the son of central character Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) based on interviews with his father and Dr Don Shirley who in the film is played by Mahershala Ali. There was no consultation with the Shirley family and they disagree with some of the ways their relative is represented. However, this is a drama based on true events and not a forensically researched documentary.

The film also lays itself open to accusations of presenting viewers with a white saviour figure but I feel this is misplaced as it could easily be argued that both of the lead characters in fact save each other to some extent. At worst, this is a white reading of a black history and that will have to suffice as at the end of the day the people writing the script and making the film were largely white. That may be the larger problem.

For me the story of the film centres on the developing relationship between Vallelonga and Shirley. It happens to play itself out within a context of racism - this is not primarily a film about racism. This goes deeper than skin colour, this is a film about humanity connecting at a deep level.

The two of them would never have ordinarily met as their worlds are so opposite. Shirley, the refined international pianist with several degrees and many languages. Vallelonga from immigrant stock living in the Bronx, trying to sustain his family amidst the boorish macho culture of testosterone fuelled Italian petty criminality. The film is more about a clash of cultures. Embedded in Vallelonga's  is innate racism (I didn't know Italians referred to black people as Aubergines!). Shirley on the other hand attempts to rise above the overt racism by maintaining his dignity but is relentlessly undermined - especially the deeper into the South they travel.

One thing that unites the two characters is that both have addictions. Vallelonga is engaged in a race to see if chain smoking or constantly stuffing himself on junk food will be the first to trigger a coronary. Shirley on the other hand gets through a bottle of whisky a night as he tries to kill off his liver. What is it that these behaviours are trying to mask?

Once completed, the narrative arc can be seen to be wholly predictable having travelled its journey with a gentle and constant pace - although at times it does seem to become endangered! At just over 2 hours long, this film did not drag at all. The acting from the two leads is extremely strong and will give you much fertile soil for reflection on relationships, life goals, family, friendship, honour, integrity and love. I commend this film to you and am happy to give it 8/10. Enjoy!


Sunday, 19 May 2019

The Escape



I found this a hard, almost disturbing film to watch. It is intelligently written and exquisitely acted. To be honest I'm still not sure what to make of all of it.

The film is about an all too common suburban malaise that afflicts too many couples. The challenge to be seen to be successful - a good job, stay at home mum, detached house in the Kentish suburbs, two cars, two kids. They have it all but life is all about work and providing for his family for husband Mark (Dominic Cooper) and for wife Tara (Gemma Arterton) life has lost its purpose and she has lost her sense of self and is depressed. The problem is that Mark is unable to see this and offer any empathy or compassion. His sex drive results at least a once-a-day uncontested rape of his wife. Her inability to articulate clearly how she feels - or more properly is unable to feel any more, simply feeds into the cycle of mismatched expectations about what life is about and how it should be lived. There is minimal dialogue, the story is driven by facial expressions, tears and body language. The film slowly and painfully trundles towards a breakdown in the marriage until Tara finally makes her escape.

With extensive use of hand held cameras, it felt that perhaps 50% of the film featured a close up of Arterton's beautiful face. She spends a lot of time looking at her emotionless reflection. Her mother is unsympathetic and unable to offer any support other than to say that it was just a 'phase' and that everyone faces it at some point or another. Tara clearly feels that she has no opportunity for creative output or self-expression and tries to find solace in an art class but Mark is dismissive. Tara struggles to find a way out of the trap of the daily, meaningless grind - she has even lost her love for her children.

In an attempt to find herself, she escapes. Her new found freedom even produces the odd smile on Arterton's otherwise emotionless face. She hooks up with a Mark look-a-like which ends up in bed. She then chastises her new partner for lying about being married and a father - the very thing she has done to him. A bewildering double standard. The ending of the film is suggestive but ultimately leaves the story open. For me this was an unsatisfying conclusion.

The film cries out for blame to be apportioned but both Mark and Tara are so unable to analyse what is actually going on, it is difficult to blame one more than the other. I wonder if, in general, men who watch this film would see a different film to women who watch it? I don't know if this film has a feminist agenda driving it to present Tara as a victim. We never get to see Mark's daily context - perhaps he is numbingly bored at work and simply goes through the motions each day to provide for his family or possibly he works so extremely hard he has little capacity to engage in a fuller home life.

Overall, I found the narrative a painful thing to experience - I didn't want to engage with it. That in itself shows what good story-telling this film offers. Arterton's acting is mesmerising and shows the versatility that she possesses. I'm really not sure what score to give this film. It is an excellent film with Arterton giving an extremely strong performance - but I didn't enjoy it all and I certainly don't want to see it again. Perhaps the film's intent is to vaccinate suburbia in the hope of preventing an epidemic. It offers plenty of scope for fruitful reflection and perhaps offers couples a jolt back to reality should their relationship be heading in the direction of Mark and Tara's. I'll give it a 7/10.



Saturday, 18 May 2019

The Visitor



Context is everything! This film was made in 2007 in New York in the wake of 9/11. It could have been set anywhere in the USA as far as the story of the central character Walter (Richard Jenkins) is concerned but it has a wider story to tell about cross-cultural communication and understanding, the ability to find shared interests, love, the brutality of an indiscriminating immigration regime and that is why it really did have to be set in New York.

The film gently reveals a number of epiphanies - mostly experienced by Walter. In late middle age, the university professor is still in the funk caused by the death of his wife five years previously. He looks like a man on auto-pilot with no real purpose in life. Walter is coasting and deceives himself and others through half truths. He is unnecessarily harsh on one of his students, his lectures are lifeless and lack-lustre, there is no spark, no creativity, no fun in the man or his life.

Walter is jolted out of his numbing complacency by being forced to visit New York - a city where he just happens to keep an apartment. A series of events present him with people he begins to care about, activities that he can get passionate about and the faint hope that he can find love again is rekindled. This is a film about transformation, xenophobia, the workings of a faceless and authoritative institution, the global village, love and families.

The film is littered with rich metaphors that help to signpost what is going on. Not in a 'show and tell' kind of way but with gentle subtlety. The subway, the community in Central Park, the windowless detention centre, the uncaring and over-officious staff and the non-sexual intimacy which can bring consolation are all offered to help the film tell its tale.

The acting in this film, especially from the four main characters, is impeccable. The way in which Walter's world, at least for part of the film, is darkened and shadowy reinforces his dour and morose lethargy. His search for a creative outlet to enable him to somehow reconnect with his wife leads initially to sadness and frustration that seemingly further distances Walter from his wife and his memories of her. The fact that Walter is now almost always accompanied by a glass of red wine shows us the new partner in whom he finds solace.

Great script, Directing and acting - little wonder that Jenkins was Oscar nominated in this role. The playful way in which Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) describes himself as a bad muslim because he drinks wine and his partner Zainab (Danai Gurira) as a good muslim because she doesn't debunks and normalises any basis for fear of muslims - they are, per se, simply ordinary people like you and me. This is a gently bold film and its message is even more relevant today than it was in 2007 in the aftermath of 9/11. Do try and get hold of the disc or stream it. You won't be disappointed. I'll give it 8/10.



Saturday, 27 April 2019

Jesus of Montreal



This is a Passion Play that attempts to bring the passion up to date. Set in the grounds of a catholic shrine in the city of Montreal, the shrine's guardian enlists a group of actors to modernise the jaded 40 year-old script that is used in the annual production of their Passion Play. The film is in French with subtitles. We watched this in Holy Week as part of our Lenten programme this year and it worked well.

This film was made in 1989 and it attempts to engage the latest developments in Biblical archaeology to give new spins on parts of the story. Lothaire Bluteau is invited to direct and star in the new production and delivers a compelling performance. The result is the portrayal of a very human Jesus Christ whose quiet but charismatic style draws people into the plot and project.

The way in which Jesus recruits the rest of the cast is strongly modelled on Jesus recruiting his disciples in Galilee and of course they come from a range of questionable backgrounds and filled with scepticism and reluctance. As the story of the production and staging of the play develops, the characters begin to embody narrative elements of their characters in their own lives in modern-day Montreal.

The narcissistic and empty existence of the 'crowd' is made clear. Jesus even suffers the 'temptations in the desert'. Parallels with leading gospel characters become clearer as the the film progresses. The Temple Council, Mary Magdalene, John and Peter are all are present. The film challenges us to think of what constitutes love as Constance (Johanne-Marie Tremblay), in the role of Mary, mother of Jesus, offers the comfort of sex as mistress to the priest who is the guardian of the shrine.

The film certainly challenges and provokes reflection on what the Passion might look like on the streets of our town today. Who would be the main players and what would be the result. For me the narrative falls down because it denies the divine aspects of Christ from the character altogether - but that doesn't mean it's not a good film or that people shouldn't watch it.

The acting is very good and under Denys Arcand's writing and Direction delivers an important and challenging alternative to more recent offerings of the Passion Play. I would encourage you to get hold of a copy and see for yourself and make those parallel leaps from the gospels to your own neighbourhood and town. I'll give it 7/10.






Friday, 5 April 2019

Leave no Trace



This is a gentle film. No swearing, no sex and no violence of the conventional type. It is a film filled with fear, hope and love. It is worth the investment of two hours of your life. It's impossible to discuss the film without revealing some of the details - but that won't diminish your engagement with the film when you watch it.

Will is a widower, ex military suffering from PTSD and dealing with it in his own way. He lives with his daughter Tom, off the grid in the woods near Portland Oregon. Will home school's Tom who appears to be mature beyond her 13 years and emotionally stable. Will is unable to engage with any sense of normal living - a house, a job, a school for his daughter, so they live off grid fending for themselves and buying the odd few groceries from time to time.

Will's trauma means he cannot settle and he dislikes being indoors. Whenever he hears a helicopter he all but has a panic attack. He is placid and considered, the epitome of a loving father who is raising his daughter as best he can. Then they get discovered by the authorities and taken into 'care'.

Predictably, Will cannot cope with the confinement of a house and a job - particularly as it means working with a helicopter. Social Services concede that Tom is ahead of her target attainment level for her age across the board academically but are worried that she is missing social formation. They take off again.

I'm not going to spoil anything further. The narrative arc leaves a range of possibilities open until the conclusion. As much as Will's search for solitude with his daughter is the driving force on his constant need to migrate, so a settled community comes to play an important role in determining the film's outcome. Love is evidently present between father and daughter and also abounds in the authenticity of community that becomes important more towards the end.

I really liked this film - it is genuine and honest, telling its story in a refreshing way with good hand-held camera work and convincing acting from the lead characters. It's a great advertisement for the forests of Oregon and Washington State. I would encourage you get hold of the film and enjoy if you haven't already. A surprise in many ways - worthy of 8/10.




Thursday, 21 March 2019

Wonder



I watched this film with a group of friends at church as part of our Lent series which this year is focusing on "This is Our Story: exploring the stories of our faith and our own stories". The film certainly fulfilled that brief as different sections of the story are seen through the eyes of the main characters, each in turn. There weren't any explicit encounters with 'faith' per se, but the film did have plenty to say about inclusion, difference and acceptance.

The central character Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome which left him with facial disfigurement - even after 23 surgeries. He has doting parents and a sister whose long-suffering qualifies her for immediate beatification. And therein lies the films weakness. Visually imperfect Auggie inhabits an otherwise perfect world where everyone else is beautiful, homes are comfortably luxurious and when he eventually does go to school, having previously been home-schooled, he attends a top private school in a well-to-do New York suburb. The narrative arc is therefore set. How can Auggie's presence, including all the emotional pain he suffers, become a catalyst for transformation so that all the perfect people in the film can become even more perfect!

Whilst the film offers an excellent exposé of the cruelties school children can inflict on one another, it remains locked in a world that cannot transcend its culture. This film has a very American feel to it. Understandably, Auggie's world is very self-centred, but through his love of science and in particular space travel and science fiction, he is able to initially win over one or two and eventually by the end of his first year in school, everyone else. Given what the Pullman family have been through, despite their love for one another, it's hard to see how none of them are in therapy. I was also left questioning the marriage relationship of Auggie's parents which seems only to have been strengthened through the family's shared ordeal. Another expression of perfection in this film?

By its subject matter and the encounters it presents, the film invites viewers to consider how they handle and accept difference and whether or not they would capitulate and follow the herd or take the harder road. All of this is made possible by the wise and loving actions of the School Principal and Auggie's class teacher.

All of that said, this film provoked an affective response in me that left me with tears welling up on more than one occasion. It's predictability and certain outcome do not make the journey Auggie travels any less painful, effective or inspiring. I guess the value is in the travelling and it is our travels which give us the raw material for our stories that enable to share at a deeper level with one another. I'll give this film 7/10.



Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Favourite



I'm not sure what I was expecting but I wasn't expecting this eccentric, oddball and strangely comedic exploration of part of the life of Queen Anne and her court in the early Nineteenth century. England is at war with France and the English armies are led by Lord Salisbury (Mark Gatiss). Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) abuses her position as the Queen's confidant and lover, to control the Queen through reinforcing her lack of self-worth and playing on her ailing health.

The life of court is characterised by duck racing, pineapple eating, a naked MP being pelted with pomegranates, formal dinners and constant squabbling between the government and opposition. Life at Hampton Court Palace carries on seemingly unaffected by the country's impending bankruptcy, the threat of defeat to the French and the indulgence of egos as courtiers jockey for places of influence. Two hundred years on and it all sounds depressingly familiar!

Here we have a film where the three lead characters are female - and none of them come out of it having ingratiated themselves with the audience! However, the strength of their performances are worthy of the accolades and awards already received and I'm sure that they will collect more as the awards season rolls on.

The arrival of Sarah's cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone) is the catalyst for a battle to see which of them will triumph as the Queen's favourite. The depths to which they are prepared to descend to achieve their goal are staggering. The lies, deceit, opportunism and lust for power which characterises this menage-a-trois is consistent with the gluttony and depravity that appears to have entrapped all of the characters in this film. I'm so glad I'm living in these times - not from any sense of evolved superiority or sophistication, but simply because I don't think I could have coped!

The film portrays an ongoing preoccupation with sex but virtually no real intimacy. The scenes with  Lady Sarah in a brothel are menacingly disturbing. The irrational and petulant behaviour of the Queen for me became cumulatively tedious. The never ending resolve of Lady Abigail to be seen as the caring and selfless servant whilst deceitfully scheming and plotting her adversaries downfall was unpleasant.

Did I enjoy this film? No. Am I glad I saw it? Yes. Do I want to see it again? No. It is in many ways a strange film that provoked, and still provokes, strange reactions. It's structure and the way it was shot is different - perhaps intended to be an attempt to guess how they would have made feature films 200 years ago. If you stay to watch the credits, they will drive you wild too! I really am at a loss to give this film a rating. For the acting a 9/10. For how it's left me feeling, perhaps a 3/10 is being generous!



or

Hampstead




This is a film about denial, anger, loss, collusion, regret, hope, love, compromise and principles! It is a heart-warming story and although the narrative arc is predictable, the warmth of the characters draws you in and I for one, was happy to collude.

The developing love story is the unifying thread that runs throughout this film, but there is a lot more here if we peel back some of the layers. To begin with, although this film is based on a real life tussle over squatter's rights by Harry Hallowes on Hampstead Heath, it is not a documentary or biopic - it's a drama.

Would the story have worked as well anywhere else in London, say Bethnal Green, Hounslow or Croydon? No. The caché of Hampstead is an important part of the story and the pretentious lives of the characters in this film present a certain willing collusion with a desire to be part of the Hampstead set. That is what makes Fiona (Lesley Manville) and her gang appear to be only interested in seeing to be doing the right things and protecting everybody's 'best interests'.

As Emily (Diane Keaton) begins to rediscover her own identity a year after her husband's death, she is conflicted about which parts of the Hampstead lifestyle to buy into and which parts are not really her. Meanwhile the external pressures of her looming insolvency, the constant nagging of her son Philip (James Norton), the unwanted advances of her accountant James (Jason Watkins), the neighbourly intrusions of Fiona and the growing attraction of the recalcitrant, volatile and wounded rogue Donald (Brendan Gleeson) pull her in competing directions.

The way the story is told maintains the different tensions creatively and there are some wonderfully comedic moments. Diane Keaton seems an odd casting choice - perhaps to give appeal to the North American market. Brendan Gleeson however inhabits the role with such comfort, you wonder if he wouldn't mind becoming Harry Hallowes - but moving to the Galway coast!

This is a gentle film that offers many avenues for reflection and exploration. the characters are believable and deliver their comedic inter-play with accomplishment. I think this is the first time I've seen Lesley Manville playing an unlikable character and I didn't like it! This is a perfect film for an evening in with the flames flickering in the hearth and a warm glow spreading throughout the audience. I'll give it 7/10.


Thursday, 27 December 2018

Viceroy's House



The problem with historical dramas is that people are very quick to be critical of the accuracy of the historical elements whilst forgetting it is a drama. This film is not a documentary, but it is certainly dramatic.

The casting is excellent here with Hugh Bonneville playing the titular Louis Mountbatten and Gillian Anderson his forceful and caring wife Edwina - with her first class diamond-cut English accent. The film captures the mission impossible the Viceroy is sent on. The urgency to find a solution, the impossibility of the timescale, the intransigence of the party leaders, the double-dealing and betrayal of politics and the love of a Hindu for a Muslim - it's all here and it combines to produce a compelling and engaging piece of story telling.

The film highlights the sad and painful legacy of British colonialism. A once dominant country now exhausted by the exertions of WWII and the impatience of the Indian people to finally achieve their independence - but at what cost? The film is very polarising in the way it portrays the mistrust of Muslims and Hindus. A divided nation is portrayed in miniature with an increasingly divided Viceroy's household and the hope of reconciliation and renewed national unity embodied by the love of Hindu Jeet (Manish Dayal) for Muslim Alia (Huma Qreshi).

What is clear is the immense sense of duty felt by the Mountbattens and their sensitivity to and sympathy for the Indian people. This portrayal shows Mountbatten to be a man of unshakeable integrity in a world where too many others lack the ability to maintain theirs. I'm not altogether sure how Gandhi comes out in this film - except perhaps as an Indian Yoda!

If you want a history lesson, approach this film with caution. If you want to be engaged and entertained by some very good acting, give it a go. I'm giving it 8/10.


Tuesday, 11 December 2018

BFI Sight & Sound Top 20 films of 2018


As you will know, I have a keen interest in films and because of that many people assume I'm a film buff. I beg to differ. I do not have an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema. I am not able to immediately list all the films made by this Director of that Actor. I simply enjoy engaging with stories and when they are well crafted, that adds to my enjoyment. I then of course enjoy reflecting on them and how they intersect with my story and God's story.

S&S has just published its Top 20 of 2018 - how many have you seen? Confession - I have seen none of them! One or two I did want to see but missed and at least one I decided I didn't want to see. How many did you make? Interesting to see only one or two 'mainstream' titles and no mega-blockbusters. What does that say?

I hope you enjoyed 2018's films and are looking forward to 2019!


Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Girl in the Spider's Web



This film presents Claire Foy as the titular character. It could have been written for her. The fourth novel written by David Lagerkrantz a decade after the the death of Steig Larsson, takes the central characters Lisbet Salander and Michael Blomqvist in a more human and in the case of Salander, a slightly less extreme and more accessible direction.

Salander takes commissions on the darker side of hacking whilst Blomqvist has never regained his mojo after writing about her - his magazine floundering to survive. As you might expect, Salander is keen to dish out retribution to men who abuse women and the opening scenes establish her motivation for this with extended flashbacks to her childhood and the abuse she and her sister Camilla, suffered at the hands of their father.

This is yet another film about dualism - right versus wrong, which side are you going to take. It seems that Camilla and Lisbet chose opposite sides yet in the film they are portrayed as the 'good Lisbet' dressed always in black and 'evil Camilla' with whitened hair and complexion, always dressed in red. Is this simply colour confusion or another twist to the story?

As would be expected in this Nordic noir tale of retribution and justice, there is plenty of violence of the James Bond kind. Once or twice the perverted psycho-sexual antics of the girls' father is hinted at.
Gadgets abound as does use of extensive surveillance technology and there are the obligatory car and motorcycle chases through the streets of Stockholm. There is plenty of action and excitement throughout its 117 minutes. Whilst the narrative arc is quite simple, there are plenty of diversions and detours, some unexpected, along the way.

There is good continuity with the world created in the Millenium Trilogy in this film. Whilst this film is good, it's not quite as good as either the Swedish TV movie series of the Hollywood remake of the first film. Nevertheless it is an enjoyable escapist watch if action and the righting of wrongs is your thing. The indestructible Salander literally bounces from near death experience to near death experience - she survives, explosion, fire, drowning, suffocation, drugging, fights, her own demons and finally the legacy of her family.

Claire Foy makes the lead role her own and it is good to see Stephen Merchant expanding his repertoire - although his accent ping pongs between California, Bristol and Stockholm! No doubt there is more scope for future novels and films to develop the franchise further. I'll give it 7/10.


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald



The latest offering from the world of Harry Potter is at best, disappointing. The ensemble cast of top actors spend the entire movie searching for a story to tell. The only redeeming feature is the extensive use of special effects that create the many Fantastic Beasts and wizzardly spells. The first film presented the streets of New York and this offering gives us Paris. Where next? It feels like the franchise has a potential to become a travelogue series! There are some great lines in the dialogue, such as, "Are you trying to be funny, or are you French?". Wonderful.

Eddie Redmayne's sensitive characterisation of Newt Scamander - a wizard with Asperger's Syndrome, carries the film. It is his relationship with Albus Dumbledore also played well by Jude Law, which creates the nucleus around which the film revolves. To me, it feels like the  character of Grindlewald was written for Jonny Depp whose brooding darkness is so well suited to the character. This is simply another presentation of dualism - the moral fight that rages in the world of Harry Potter and also in our world - good versus evil. We all have a choice which side we are on.

In the original HP series it was Dumbledore's confidence in the 'mis-fit' Harry Potter that propelled the central character to ultimate victory. In this spin-off franchise, it is Dumbledore's confidence in the 'mis-fit' Newt Scamander that drives what little story there is. There is an attempt to weave a love story into this film but it is very thin and adds little. Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) had been close to Newt but is now engaged to his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) but Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) thinks that Lestrange is engaged to Newt and consequently gives him a hard time. Newt does pluck up the courage to tell Tina she has eyes like a Salamander, presumably a compliment in the world of wizards, but you wonder if he's ever actually made eye contact with her!

Die hard Potterites will of course dash to watch this - and why not. For the rest of us, wait a couple of years until it features at Christmas on TV. As I said, a disappointing film with few redeeming features. I'll give it 5/10.


Saturday, 27 October 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody



As a 16 year old I saw Queen on their Sheer Heart Attack tour in 1975 and a year later, also in Bristol, saw them on their A Night at the Opera tour (I still have the concert brochure!). Two concerts that have stuck in my memory for their sheer energy and power. I grew up with Queen. To see this film certainly was to embark on a nostalgic journey. To experience the music was to reawaken the realisation that in Queen we have a unique sound and an amazing set of songs.

Much has been said about this film and the critics have been extremely vocal. For me, this was not so much a biopic of Queen but an exploration of vocation and human identity. Much of the film centres on Freddie Mercury played brilliantly by Rami Malek. It does not however deliver insider information on Freddie's descent into drugs and gay relationships. These elements are present briefly, but only to serve the development of the narrative context. If people are looking for salacious title-tattle, they will be disappointed. This film has more important things to say.

It begins and ends at the Liveaid concert at Wembley in 1985 charting the journey of Freddie, or
Farrokh Bulsara to give him his birth name, from Heathrow baggage handler to $4 million dollar signing. Freddie's origins are complicated and his lineage comes from Persia via India and Zanzibar to Feltham, of a Parsi family with Zoroastrian roots. If you add to this his wrestle with his own sexuality, you have someone who doesn't really fit in anywhere. This was the driving force for his life journey and for the uniqueness of Queen's sound.

The film makes it clear that Freddie's flamboyance and musical abilities were indicators of the direction in which he would find fulfilment. Stifled by parental expectations and living for live performances, Freddie had to escape and when the opportunity presented itself he grabbed it and Queen were born. In the process he connected deeply with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) - a relationship which never ended.

The film makes it clear that Freddie's journey was a vocational one. He needed to discover who he was and writing songs and performing helped him to do that. With endless tours and new albums under their belt in an epiphany Freddie announces that he is a 'performer' and a self-satisfied grin grows across his face. He has finally found out who he really is. His exceptional ability to connect with an audience was perhaps the single most important aspect that gave such power and energy to Queen's live performances.

That is until another epiphany reveals to him that he thinks he may be bisexual. How Mary handles this is tenderly wonderful. I cannot remember seeing a film or engaging with a story which so empathetically follows someone searching for their sense of self. Perhaps at the age I am, I still possess a naivety, but I have never had to question my own sexual identity. The film enabled me to see how closely sexuality is, for some, an integral part of self-identity in a way that I had not fully appreciated before. What's more, it allowed me to see how much it was equally an expression of vocation, as being a performer for Freddie. That is if we understand vocation to be, becoming the fullest possible expression of the person we were created to be. What the film makes clear is that while Freddie was happy to allow the performer side of his identity to be public property, his sexuality which was for him such an intimate part of his identity, he wished that it remain private. The film moved me to tears many times.

Aficionados of Queen will undoubtedly find many holes in the plot, characters and representation of what happened to their group. Band members Brian May and Roger Taylor were creative advisors to the makers of the film and wished nothing to appear in the film that would diminish Freddie Mercury's legacy or memory. That they achieved.

Anyone with an interest in popular music of the 1970s and 80s should go an see this film. Anyone who likes to engage in a believable story told through compelling acting should go and see this film. If you have an interest in how sexuality forms part of self-identity, you should go and see this film. If you are reading this - you should go and see the film. I'll give it 8/10.



Shadow World



We are fortunate to have within our congregations a number of folk who are engaged in wider issues as a means of increasing the impact of the Christian Gospel on the world in which we live. One such lady asked if we could screen this film at our regular monthly gathering and I was happy to oblige. We drew a crowd of over 70.

Based on Andrew Feinstein's book of the same name, the film is a chilling documentary that catalogues how the relationships between governments, arms dealers, arms manufacturers and customers are completely incestuous. Within this area of world trade, a complete sub-culture exists and has its own economy as tax pounds and dollars are frittered away in backhanders and subsidies to sell arms and munitions - many times to countries that can ill afford them or pay for their upkeep and maintenance. Too often poorer developing countries buy weapons platforms that they do have the expertise to use or likely contexts in which to deploy them. They certainly cannot afford the 'consumable' munitions these platforms deliver! Meanwhile, middle men and former government ministers grow fat on the profits.

We were excited and privileged to welcome Andrew Feinstein to present the film and to talk about it answering questions afterwards. If you want to book a screening of the film (which is not yet commercially available) get in touch with outreach@caat.org.uk. The organisation Campaign Against Arms Trade have a host of other resources and events if you are interested.

Watching this film may leave you thinking 'what can I do'? On your own, your options may seem limited. You can campaign, march, rally, write to your MP and local Council. You can review your bank's involvements in the arms trade and maybe move bank - although it's difficult to find one that is 'clean' in this sense. You can review any investments you hold, or your pension fund provider holds and ask for them to be transferred away from the arms trade. There are lots of things you can do - see caat.org.uk

In times which seem to encourage endless hopelessness, let us remember in whom our hope is placed:

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: 
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, 
and their spears into pruninghooks: 
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, 
neither shall they learn war any more. 

(Isaiah 2:4).

This is a well made film that hits hard. Spread the word and arrange a screening. I'll give it 8/10.



Friday, 12 October 2018

First Man



It is an odd feeling, and becoming increasingly frequent, to see films portraying 'history' when they relate to events I witnessed at first hand! I was 10 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and remember watching it (possibly a replay at breakfast time) in black and white on TV in days when there were only three channels, no breakfast broadcasting and no rolling 24 hour news! Yep - I'm getting old.

This is most definitely a biopic and much of it must be interpretative. It is not so much a film about the Gemini and Apollo space programmes as a film about Neil Armstrong. Armstrong is played by Ryan Gosling who along with actors like George Clooney and Keanu Reeves specialise in playing themselves in every movie! His wife, Janet is sensitively and at the same time forcefully played by Claire Foy.

The film begins with the heartache of the death of their young daughter Karen. At the time, Armstrong is a test pilot. Armstrong is pictured lovingly playing with Karen and stroking her hair - a display of emotional attachment that he never manages with any other members of the family - except in one dance scene with Janet. Karen's death devastates the family and whilst her brother and mother find some way of coming to terms with it, Armstrong is unable to articulate anything about it and bottles up his emotions. The film essentially explores how that affects his ongoing relationship with his family. This makes him seem dispassionate and uncaring but he uses the inner fire of loss and anger to fuel his drivenness as he gets a post on the Gemini and then Apollo programmes. His biggest weakness and failing, empower his greatest strength, thus enabling Armstrong to be a cool-thinking and totally focussed mission commander.

What the film ably highlights is the high cost to everyone - taxpayers, scientists and astronauts - and their families. The programme to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon cost billions of dollars and too many lives - but they persist with it. There is a brilliant and powerful scene which catches a glimpse of the emotional capital the programme asked these men to invest, where Janet forces Neil to confront his fears and say the unsayable to his boys before departing on the Apollo 11 mission.

At 144 minutes, I was anticipating that there would be slow patches where it would drag. There weren't any. The pace was well maintained and whilst two or three hallmark events do appear, many events do not as the focus is not on the missions but on Armstrong and his family. Excellent Direction. I'm glad it wasn't Clint Eastwood in the chair - it would have been a very different film! This is not at all jingoistic and I came away with a sense of American greatness being defined in the pursuit of knowledge and exploration and getting ahead of the Soviets, rather than saying we are the biggest power on Earth. Well done. There was also careful use of original footage which was creatively cut into the film on a number of occasions - especially when documenting the wider social happenings of the time.

There are plenty of intimate close-ups where the camera is packed in tightly with the astronauts - especially in the small Gemini capsule, where you  almost feel the sweat dripping and splashing as they jerk and rattle through lift-off and into orbit. There are also the wide shot colour spectaculars of the Saturn V taking off in the clear Floridian skies and the moon as never seen before! Close ups of the reflective helmets on the Moon never featured the camera operator or anything other than Moonscape. Great work.

As you may have gathered I really enjoyed this film. Yes, it took me back to my childhood, yes it was about the sexy space programme, but most of all it was about ordinary human beings with all their emotional flaws, achieving extraordinary things. Do go and see this movie on the big screen - it is in IMAX too. Despite Ryan Gosling, I'll give it 9/10.




Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Miseducation of Cameron Post


When a film wins the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, you know it's going to be good. This film did not disappoint. It's the second film (Apostasy) in a month that I've watched that offers a critique of Christianity - perhaps the fact that these kinds of films can be released in mainstream cinema is an indication of the maturing of a post-Christian world view.

The film begins in an anonymous US community giving it the possibility of universal application. The film is set in 1993. Billed as teen coming-of-age movie, it explores same sex attraction (SSA) through the person of Cameron Post as she seeks to establish her identity as an emerging adult. Hormonal soup courses through the veins of Cameron and her friends as heterosexual and homosexual attractions play out along with drug experimentation which is depicted as part of the gauntlet of initiation into adulthood that youngsters are forced to endure as they try to work out who they are. What interested me was that there was possibly only one scene in which a parent of a SSA teen is shown. Teens who are caught in an SSA encounter can be sent by their parents for rehabilitation at a gay conversion therapy centre run by brother and sister, Reverend Rick himself an example of the success of the programme and Dr Marsh who spouts self-help Christian psychology.

This is an intelligent film that takes teenagers, SSA and Evangelical Christianity seriously. It doesn't hand out judgments but simply says this is how things are. In doing so, for many, the film will in fact make many judgments. For me there were uncomfortable resonances with the kind of Christianity I encountered on finding God back in the 1970s. Sexually impropriety was deemed to be the biggest and almost unforgivable sin. Right doctrine leads to right behaviour - it was so simple, so black and white, with no recognition that we are born into a world of grey. As a teenager we were subjected to repeated teaching on how to avoid falling into sin - sex outside of marriage and 'self pleasure' were outlawed and SSA was so taboo it never even got a mention. Or at least that's how it seemed at the time, but it might just have felt like that because I too was trying to work out who I was.

Anyone who has been part of the kind of Evangelical ghetto portrayed in the film will recognise the characters and the sub-culture which makes a genuine attempt to keep adherents apart from mainstream society to avoid contamination through temptation and falling into sin. Life in the ghetto is afterall much easier as we only mix with our own kind - woe behold anyone who engages in 'sinful behaviour' with a fellow church member! The fact that sexual attraction and especially SSA are such strong forces are simply evidence of a weak or misplaced faith and so we have to pray and try harder to live for God and not self. What the film ends up evidencing is that the teenagers learn the vocabulary and behaviour of growing closer to God and the psychobabble needed to unlock possible privileges and eventual release from the remote community. If anything they are pushed further away from God and loving communities which exist to worship him.

The film raises lots of issues about a range of subjects including self-identity, sexual identity, Church, community and friendship. The acting is first class and Chloe Grace Moretz gives a nuanced and sympathetic performance in the titular role. This has just come out in the cinemas in the UK - do go and see it and then talk about it with friends and ask yourself what is the film saying to me! I'll give it 8/10.


Saturday, 1 September 2018

Searching



This is both a thoughtful and thought-provoking film. The premise is simple - and I won't spoil the plot. As a lone parent, David Kim's (John Cho) 16 year-old daughter goes missing one night. The film is about how David deals with the loss and the ensuing investigation which entails lots of searching. Loss is the central theme of the film.

What sets this story apart is that it is largely told from the perspective of social media - see the picture above. Unsurprisingly, dad realises that he actually knows very little about his teenage daughter's world and circle of friends. Armed with only her laptop, he explores the many apps she used and sets about trying to piece together her last movements and who may have had contact with her.  Kim spends much of the film frantically searching browsers, SMS, FaceTime, Instagram, Reddit, Facebook, Tumblr,  reminders, calendars, Google Maps, Venmo and even webcams. The film is about both outward and inward searching.

This is a gripping thriller that maintains a good pace as various people fall under then out of suspicion. A lot of the story explores family dynamics and it is in this area that it invites viewers to engage in self-reflection about their familial relationships. How prepared would you be if a family member disappeared this evening? No need for paranoia here, but just think through how you respond to this question. We still all need our secrets but do you know enough to track someone down?

The film offers a good expose of the weaknesses and failures of speculative TV and radio journalism. It also shows the wide range of motivations that drive people when a community responds to a request for help. Many are well-intentioned and some are plainly narcissistic.

The film premiered at Sundance and was warmly received. It was snapped up by Sony for only $5M for world-wide distribution. Many will say it is simply a clone of Unfriended but that would be too simplistic. This film has many things to commend it and chief among them are the way the film was written and Cho's gripping performance. It has just come out in cinemas in the UK - do go and see before it disappears. I'll give it 8/10.


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Baby Driver



I missed this when doing the rounds but managed to get it on disc. This is a very stylish film in every sense of the word. The premise is simple. Baby has tinnitus and is a getaway driver but he lives his life listening to several iPods (not at the same time) and his music choices have to fit his activity or frame of mind - especially when he's escaping pursuing law enforcement. The most striking thing about the film therefore is its non-stop soundtrack which covers a wide range of musical genres. IMDb lists 30 songs - you can find them here.

If hold ups, car chases and lots of shooting are not for you, then this film will be low on your list. The characters within it are all interesting and weave together a rich tapestry of humanity. One of the central questions the film explores is how do you treat someone who is morally upright but drives getaway cars for thieves? Much of the narrative explores questions of relationships, loyalty and honour and in that sense, this is fruitful ground for conversations on morals and ethics albeit played out in a very questionable arena!

Romance is a strong theme too - and again loyalty and faithfulness are explored here. Ansel Elgort who plays the titular role gives a very good performance having first come to prominence in 2014 in the Divergent trilogy. Lily James shines and dazzles as diner waitress Debora defying her natural and gentle period English rose persona which has seen her feature in the TV miniseries of War & Peace and Downton Abbey as well as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (reviewed here).

I enjoyed this film and would happily watch it again. It is clever, has some great humour, unexpected turns and believable characters. The music, cars and Baby Driver occupy centre stage and the relentless soundtrack propels the film forward. A good watch - do see if you have the chance. I'll give it 8/10.



Mother!



Well, next time I'm looking for a disc to be the fifth in a special offer (5 for £XX), I will look more closely! I thought that with a cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer and Brian and Domhnall Gleeson and Directed by Darren Aronofsky, that I was on to a good thing. Caveat emptor!

Those who are familiar with my blog will know that I am not a fan of horror films. Some will argue that this is just a physcological thriller - well if so, it is an horrifying one! Confession: I stopped watching it after the first hour. Therefore, you have permission to read no further, if you so desire.

From the outset this film is unclear about it's intention. Being curious, I interrogated a couple of reviews who found consensus in describing it as a Christian/Biblical creation allegory. The main character is a creator, yes his wife shapes that creation, yes Adam's ribs have recent wounds, yes two brothers fight over their inheritance with one killing the other, yes something that was once dark and lifeless has been loved back to life.

The main two characters are apparently not named until the end credits. The first hour of the film, at least, takes place in a remote large house surrounded by grassland which in turn is ringed with Edenic trees. J-Law's character is the epitome of beauty, innocence and devotion but if only she had allowed her fear to inform her curiosity we would have had a much more interesting and different film!

The cameras are hand held and always on the move. Rooms within the house appear to change floor at random and whichever floor you are on, each room seems to radiate off a central hallway which is impossible as apart from the ground floor, the centre of the house is open to a cupola. The lighting is mostly dim which frustrates more than adding a greater sense of mystery.

If you like having your head messed with and don't mind a film whose plot is seemingly nonsensical, then this is right up your alley! It divides people and the responses are usually always polemic. The actors are great - I'm not so sure about the characters they play or the narrative in which they are located. I'm sure this is great cinema for those with brains and sensibilities that can cope, but for me, the second hour will forever remain unseen. I'll give it 4/10.



Monday, 27 August 2018

The Children Act



This would be a completely wonderful film were it not for a far-fetched plot that stretches believability further than it should. The narrative arc is perfectly elliptical but the problem is, its destination. The screenplay is written by Ian McEwan who adapted it from his novel of the same name. I am told that it sticks quite faithfully to the book. This is a story where the central character's professional life mirrors her personal life but she is too blind to be able to see it - and therefore powerless and therefore unable, to do anything about it. It is also a film that explores the interaction between rationalism, faith and emotion.

The casting and sheer weight of the performances are what carry the film. Emma Thompson as The Honourable Mrs Justice Maye is irresistible. Her clarity of thought, her obedience to logic, her terse interaction with Counsel, her expansive vocabulary and sheer presence make her an indomitable High Court Judge. Then one day, along comes a case that has a standard and well-rehearsed judgement that she chooses to complicate by allowing her objectivity to depart. The rest of the film is about the impact on this momentary lapse of reason - particularly on the individual whom the case centres on.

Stanley Tucci plays her husband as Academic Jack. A sensitive and sympathetic performance that adds a dynamic to the story that is as tangible as it is tragic. Jason Watkins puts in an endearing performance as the Justice's Clerk - the epitome of efficiency, anticipation and discretion.

The dialogue is filled with great one-liners such as "Life is more precious than dignity", "Is the Anglican Church a cult?", "I'm always too busy. The law can take over your life.", "Why is anything wrong, torture, dying, being unfaithful in your marriage?".

This film is brim full with passion and will provoke much reflection about a wide range of issues. It is an invitational mirror. Even with such a stumble in the story, this film is well worth watching. It is deeply engaging, allows a view into the life our privileged judiciary and reminds that at the end of the day we are all simply human becomings. Go watch it - you won't be disappointed. I'll give it 8/10.


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Mission Impossible: Fallout



There is much to commend this series of movies (this is number 6) - chief among them is the way it stays so close to the original 1966 TV series created by Bruce Geller. This was essential weekly family viewing!

At 147 minutes long, watching this requires an investment of time - but the time will pass quickly. This film is action from beginning to end, with plenty of car chases, most them on the streets of Paris. The plot is interesting too with all its twists and turns and usual dose of double and treble crossing! It has glamorous locations, smart looking men, beautiful women and plutonium! It has it all. Far from the franchise getting tired, J J Abrams has kept the patient very much alive!

This film offers plenty of invention when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) seems impossibly trapped and in need of escape. It also offers some exciting new camera angles and shooting as the camera is up close and personal in high speed chases and then it suddenly pulls back before getting right back in the thick of it. 

Amongst the mayhem and explosions, this film explores emotions in a way that perhaps previous offerings haven't. The usual suspects are there - greed, revenge, loyalty, pride but this film also spends quite a bit of time exploring love. It also gives us the longest 15 minutes in the history of cinema! 

I found this to be an enjoyable feast for the eyes, ears (26 pieces of music) and mind. Yes there is a lot of killing but it's never up close and personal and restraint even emerges once or twice. If you want to lose yourself in a couple of hours of pure escapism, then this is for you. Very good - I'll give it 8/10.


Saturday, 11 August 2018

Apostasy



This is a powerful piece of cinema. A film which is driven both by its narrative and by the characters as they navigate the tensions created by their commitment to their faith as Jehova's Witnesses. You will not leave the cinema with your heart uplifted or with a skip in your step. There are few splashes of colour in this story. The austere grey concrete and weather of Oldham, reinforced by the native accent, help this film to have the feel of a docu-drama at times.

The film does not ridicule the sect of Jehova's Witnesses but with great sensitivity tells a story set firmly within the world of the central Oldham Hall of JWs. The way in which it tells the story leaves the viewer in no doubt about how the organisation operates and how it controls the lives of its adherents. This is no recruitment film!

The fact that it centres on JWs is in a sense is irrelevant. The kind of life set out by this particular faith community could equally play out in any part of Christianity that holds to a fundamentalist position wherever on the theological spectrum that might be.

Written and Directed by Daniel Kokotajlo, himself a former JW, this film shows what life can be like as a Witness. It is easy to caricature people who believe things that are different to me, or who as a consequence behave differently as a result of those beliefs. This film does not do that. Neither does it slide into the temptation to slushy sentimentalism that would have been so easy. What makes the film so effective as a means of delivering Kokoyajlo's story, is the acting of the three main characters. Here we have three women who together form a completely believable family: mother Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran) and her daughters Luisa (Sacha Parkinson) and Alex (Molly Wright). Together they attend 'meetings' at the local Hall, engage in street evangelism and even learn Urdu to enable them to go door-to-door in an attempt to proselytise local muslims.

The heart of the Christian message should be about love, grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. In this film, the way it is portrayed as being lived by members of this sect, is something that is more about fear, working to earn salvation, condemnation and alienation. The film clearly depicts that leadership within the JWs is male, completely lacking in compassion, middle-aged and domineering. The only permitted engagement with 'the world' is for the purposes of evangelism - anything more and it will be interpreted as the slippery slope of apostasy which will lead to the local elders disfellowshipping any individual thought to be guilty of fraternising with non-believers.

There are many bits of back story that I would have liked to have known to help establish why things are as we find them at the start of the film. They are not forthcoming, which in a very real way adds to the pressure cooker feel that the film engenders about this family at this time in their common life together.

I came to faith in a community that was theologically very conservative and where the link between belief and behaviour was so direct, that any transgression would be dealt with harshly and publicly. The message preached week-by-week was 'come ye apart' to preserve your doctrinal purity, lest the world taint you. As a consequence, this film set a series of resonances rumbling that I found disturbing. It highlighted for me the the almost impossible task of balancing freedom with responsibility in terms of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Whilst many of the beliefs would be common, different churches set the threshold of tolerated behaviour at different levels. Does that make members of one church any less effective as Christian disciples than another? Despite the good news of Jesus Christ being an open and grace-filled invitation, our predisposition to feel guilty all the time and our perceived need to earn anything of merit - including our salvation, disrupt and deflect our attempts to live as people of God in our daily context. This film left me thinking that we probably need good therapy more than we need good sermons!

So, if you want to engage in a gripping character study, a portrait of a Christian family, the attraction of a sect or be led to reflect on how what you believe impacts the way you behave, this one is for you. It is not an enjoyable watch but it is gripping and engaging and I know I shall be reflecting on it for a long time to come. I'm already thinking about how I might need to tweak tomorrow's sermon as a result of having watched it! It is available now on a streaming service from Curzon and Amazon. This is a disc I shall be adding to my collection as soon as I can. A great film. I'll give it 9/10.



Monday, 6 August 2018

Anon



One of the new generation of films made for release on Netfilx or on demand through Sky Movies, I caught up with this film yesterday as the trailers had made it look like 'my kind of film'. I enjoyed much of it but felt it could have been so much more. This is a sci-fi film that is far more fi than sci! In terms of plot and visuals it aspires to be Minority Report meets  The Matrix meets  The Final Cut meets Inception but it's not nearly as good as any of these.

Set in a kind of retro near future, the architecture, clothes and transport all look like they don't quite fit. The mood and lighting have a gangster feel and I kept expecting James Cagney or Robert Mitchum to appear. Lighting was strong and shadows were a plenty which again fits the film's plot. Most internal shots were of large empty spaces, sparsely furnished with walls finished in polished concrete. All very minimalist and grey. Again, in keeping with the film's plot.

The film is set in an age were everyone has a biosyn implant that records all that the individual sees and offers information in an augmented reality kind of way - see the picture above which helpfully identifies a church and gives details of what it offers. It is good to see that the Church is still around in the future despite current predictions! Perhaps God does know what he/she is doing?

Through this visual implant that is linked to a person's thoughts and memories, all communications and visual data are uploaded to 'The Ether' through which the government controls, polices and directs its population. Nothing goes unseen or unheard, no communication evades monitoring. If you commit a crime a message flashes up in your 'mind's eye' to cease any activity, stay where you are and await arrest. The recording of what you did to break the law is held in The Ether and accessed by law enforcement to convict you. There are of course different levels of access, but the top policemen can access the highest levels.

I say policemen because none of the law enforcement officers are female and females are only portrayed in this film as either a neurotic ex, a sex object or a hacker who is also an assassin. Not a very rounded view of sexual types.

For those who maintain and police the system, it offers a  kind of utopia where everything is held in balance and people lead fulfilled lives as they commute to work each day on the subway. This is a world where seeing is believing and when it dawns on the investigators that someone is hacking The Ether and removing records replacing them with benign images of mundane normality, they begin to freak out as they no longer know what they can trust and believe.

"How can we control what we cannot see?" is a central question posited by one of the leading detectives. This re-writing of the the world's rule book forces the city's Commissioner to compel the detectives to operate outside the law in order to eliminate the threat. This turning to Utilitarianism by 'the state' poses a bigger threat to the order of society than the hacking of The Ether in the mind of the central character and highlights a major temptation that fascism will inevitably fall into when pushed. Our main character is however, able to detect the nuances of the plot development and offers a brief respite from what is otherwise a predictable, mundane and formulaic plot and screenplay.

Overall, I was disappointed. This film failed to develop its characters or plot in any serious way. It also failed to deliver a view of the world that was new and different to anything we hadn't already seen elsewhere. It does however offer an opportunity to explore concepts of state control, privacy and anonymity. In an increasingly digitalised world where our smartphone's track our movements and our bankcards track our lifestyle, this is a timely invitation. How differently would you act if all your actions and communications were open to scrutiny by anonymous enforcers? What if we could read one another in this way - how different might our relationships be then?

The only time your visuals are not being downloaded to The Ether are when you sleep or when you close your eyes. The hacker/assassin says at one point "We close our eyes to pray, cry, kiss, dream... or break the law." and later asserts her right of privacy by observing "It's not that I have something to hide. I have nothing I want you to see." These brief insights into a more meaningful exploration of what the film invites viewers to explore are too few and far between to redeem the overall package in my view.

Don't hurry to watch this - unless it's a rainy evening, you've run out of ironing and you have absolutely nothing else to do. I have little choice other than to award it 5/10. Disappointing.



Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times)



This is a film with no dialogue that tells a series of interconnected stories to explain and explore four phases according to a theory by Pythagoras. There is a fuller explanation of the Pythagorean inspiration for the plot at Wikipedia, so rather than pretend I'm clever, here's the link if you need it. Basically Pythagoras claimed that he had lived four lives. Why he didn't make a similar revelation the second or third time around I'm not sure! But he taught his band of followers in Calabria in South-West Italy and so that is where the film is set.

This film invites reflection on a number of levels and you go as deep as you want the Rabbit Hole to take you! If you enjoy exploring metaphysics and the meaning of life, you will enjoy this. If you're looking for a good idea for your next holiday - you will enjoy this.

So, what is this film about? A goatherd, a herd of goats, a remote village, religious observance, lack of modernity, community, trees, beautiful scenery, charcoal, life and death, humans and animals, the seasons, routine - yes, all of these and much much more!

The pace of this 88 minute film is measured and consistent as Director Michelangelo Frammartino invites viewers to observe, reflect, analyse, consider, project and place themselves in the often bleak and austere landscape of a mountain village and its inhabitants. Scenes are repeatedly shot from the same positions in different seasons as they record different parts of this story.

The rhythm of life and the practises of the villagers maintain the cadence of the narrative. I was drawn to their Good Friday observance and also why the goatherd felt that drinking a solution of dust from the church floor every night might be a good thing - and the consequence of not doing so one evening!

If you want to slow down, enjoy some great cinematography and a film that generously invites you in to reflect, then this exploration of human, animal, plant and mineral life in Southern Italy is for you. Some people simply won't 'get it'. The loss is theirs. I'm going to give it 8/10.



Sunday, 24 June 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story


This is the second 'anthology' movie of the franchise and follows Rogue One. The story is basically about two things: how Han Solo and Chewbacca meet up and how they gain possession of the Millennium Falcon. Telling you that does not spoil the plot as this is an action-driven film directed by Ron Howard. The action is pretty non-stop - just one lull for a short lovey-dovey scene and then its back into action.

Setting the film when the central character was much younger than when we were introduced to him in 1977s Star Wars, was always going to be difficult to get right - but I felt they did a good job. Choosing which characters to feature that are contemporaneous with the original series was sensitively handled. The worlds created in the film felt sufficiently familiar and convincingly slightly  less developed than the ones encountered in Star Wars et al.

The film's plot centres on relationships - particularly on trust, love and gallantry. It could equally have been a Western or set in medieval times - the story is not what drives this film. Woody Harrelson puts in a great performance and it is unnerving to hear the voice of Linda Hunt as some kind of vampirical monster that lives in a seething cauldron of soup! Paul Bettany as the baddie Dryden Vos does a very convincing job!

The two main characters are the young Solo played by Alden Ehrenreich and his love interest Qi'ra played by Emilia Clarke. To have such an English Rose in the far-flung corner of the universe and then for her to constantly offer ambiguities about where her loyalties lie, was a little jarring - but no doubt it will all pan in the sequel(s).

There is a hint of a physical relationship between Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his droid L3-37 played by Phoebe Waller Bridge. I found that a disturbing concept to have leapt into my mind - but I guess that is the way the world is going. This was a good, solid Star Wars film. Not spectacular, but filling in backstory in a helpful and believable way. well worth going to see and adding to you collection when available. I'll give it 7/10.