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.




Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society



What a delight this film is! A wonderful story, some captivating performances and the spirit of post-war Guernsey sensitively portrayed. Pity so little of it, if any, was filmed in Guernsey! Hopefully it will boost tourism with more people discovering the riches this isle and its people have to offer. I have had the privilege of visiting Guernsey dozens of times - initially as a 9 year-old on holiday! The effects of the occupation are still a vivid and lived reality within the culture of the Channel Islands today - just visit on May 9th - Liberation Day, which is a public holiday in the islands if you don't believe me!

This film has a very English feel to it although some expressions of Guernsey French do find their way into the dialogue. The casting of Lily James as writer Juliet Ashton, Matthew Goode as publisher Sidney Stark and Penelope Wilton as embittered widow Amelia Maugery is inspired and their performances - especially Wilton's worthy of a major award. The film is based on a novel by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer.

This film depicts some of the horrors of war and of being on an occupied island when the occupier takes all the good stuff and leaves the locals to live on potatoes. The slaves imported to work on building coastal defences fared even worse. It also gives a tender insight of when the rigid distinction between occupier and occupied become blurred reminding us that humanity and love can survive in even the harshest of situations.

This is a film about emotions - love, hate, hope, regret, fear, unknowing, grief, courage, betrayal, loyalty, grace and generosity. The central characters are still enmeshed in a web of consequences flowing from war time events - the film is set only a year after the end of the war and those emotions are still so raw. As the islanders are still learning to enjoy their freedom, so the central character appears to be blindly heading for her own captivity as a trophy bride for a rich and ambitious American diplomat. Issues of gender equality are explored both through the writings of the Bronte sisters and through the lives of some of the characters in the film, which brings it right up to date.

This film had me snuffling at many points - I found it moving and engaging. I know that reviews have been mixed. I can only guess that the negative comments are from people who have remained objective and detached, and not allowed themselves to be drawn in by the characters and the story. Isn't cinema supposed to offer that invitation to viewers? It worked for me.

This film is a heart-warming and nostalgic tear jerker that allows a privileged insight into the sufferings of Channel islanders during WWII, which outside those islands is largely ignored. It's also a well told, well acted and nicely shot story that tugs at the heart. Do go and see it - but take your tissues! I'll give it 9/10.


Friday, 20 April 2018

Clouds of Sils Maria



This a clever and heavyweight drama that requires a high level of engagement from viewers if they are to be rewarded with anything beyond seeing the beautiful Swiss Alps and Juliette Binoche. It is a story dominated by female characters who are portrayed through very strong performances, especially Kirsten Stewart who plays Valentine, the PA of Maria whose role is inhabited by Juliette Binoche. Maria is a famous actress who is able to pick and choose her projects.

This is not a film for casual viewing. Although the narrative is strong, this film is character driven and the intensity of the performances demand engagement with the story. Without going into plot detail, as the film develops, the boundary between reality and the script of a possible future project becomes blurred. This invited me to make all kinds of assumptions about where it was going - some of my assumptions were right but not all of them. As I said, this is a clever film.

The centre piece is not necessarily the context the characters find themselves within, or even the location of Sils Maria in Switzerland's Engadine but the emotions the characters feel as fate propels them onwards. Fear, jealousy, ambition, regret, aversion to ageing, love and hate all play out in a tangled web of intrigue and while some are fully indulged, others are restrained but the reasons behind the decisions why, are unclear - at least to me. Why people take certain decisions rather than others when options are available is left unanswered in this film. Perhaps it is the volatile fragility of 'performers' who only feel as loved as their last good review that drives Maria to make the choices she does. Are 'performers' any different to non-performers?

If you want to watch a film that offers top drawer acting, beautiful settings and an exploration of human emotions, then spending 2 hours watching this will reward you. If your tastes are otherwise, my suggestion would be to avoid it. I'm glad I stuck it out as the more I have reflected on it over the past couple of days, the more depth I have discovered in it. I'll give it 7/10.



Saturday, 3 March 2018

Krakatoa East of Java



Memory is a strange thing. I remember being entranced by this film when my parents took me to see it at the Odeon in Bristol, when it came out in 1968 - I was nine. It was projected in a super-wide format and I remember the screen was so wide I couldn't see it all at the same time. I watched the film again last night and wondered why I have wasted brain cell capacity to carry memories of it for 50 years! It was dire. Have you ever watched a film and been similarly disappointed?

The most famous thing about this film is the fact that the volcanic island of Krakatoa is actually West of Java. The film was shot entirely in Italy and Spain - perhaps if they'd actually visited the Dutch East Indies, their geography might have been less confused. Whether that would have translated into a script and story that contained any excitement, or moved at a pace that was quicker than pedestrian (zimmer frame assisted), is doubtful.

The ensemble cast was for its day a good one. The exotic location and the idea of hunting for sunken treasure, a mutiny and a volcano about to blow its top, all combined to hold out the prospect of an entertaining watch. With special effects straight out of Thunderbirds and drastically overdone, this film manages to disappoint in just about every way.

I prefer the film of my memories.

I note that Rotten Tomatoes manages to award it 0% whilst a more generous IMDb 5.5/10! Its main problem is that it tries to deliver a fairly standard story but borrows so many cliched scenes from other adventure and disaster movies that it ends up being a bit of a dog's breakfast. As an impressionable nine-year-old I was obviously impacted by the cinematography and projection format. It probably also reinforced my hunger to travel and see the world, so perhaps it has one or two redeeming qualities. At a struggle, I'll award it 4/10. Only watch as a cure for insomnia.




Friday, 23 February 2018

Strangers in Good Company (The Company of Strangers)



A friend lent us this film and I'm glad they did - it's a gift. If you prefer action movies with explosions and CGI monsters, then this is not for you. If you want something unique and quite different that will slow you down and invite reflection on the things that are important in life to you, then watch this film.

The immediate back story is unimportant. Seven older women find themselves on a bus tour with their driver/guide in a remote rural location in Quebec when the bus breaks down. They slowly make their way through the countryside in search of help and shelter and find an abandoned cottage overlooking a lake and valley. A vision of Eden perhaps?

Although the plot's key points were already conceived, the dialogue in the film is improvised and the route the characters take to navigate their own wilderness experience is up to them as a collective - each one drawing on their own real life. Their cheerful resourcefulness quickly knits them into a fun-filled community as they share what little food they have and improvise ways to catch to fresh fish and frogs.

The women are:
  • Alice Diabo, 74, a Mohawk elder from Kahnawake, Quebec,
  • Constance Garneau, 88, born in the US and brought to Quebec by her family as a child,
  • Winifred Holden, 76, an Englishwoman who moved to Montreal after World War II,
  • Cissy Meddings, 76, who was born in England and moved to Canada in 1981,
  • Mary Meigs, 74, a noted feminist writer and painter,
  • Catherine Roche, 68, a Roman Catholic nun,
  • Michelle Sweeney, 27, a jazz singer and the bus trip's tour guide,
  • Beth Webber, 80, who was born in England and moved to Montreal in 1930.

Throughout their ordeal, the film often features just two of the women in conversation sharing recollections about their past, their family and their philosophy of life honed by decades of experience. Black and white photos are edited in over the dialogue showing the women in bygone days. Never is the dialogue forced or boring. It repeatedly reveals unexpected gems about some past incident, a way of life, an orientation. Nothing is forced and there is no feeling that you have to buy into anyone's ideas in order to authenticate the story. It is simply offered - as a gift. This film is a wonderful example of the positive power of reflective practice.

At first, the prospect of watching this didn't grip me or fill me with excitement - but it's not that kind of film. I'm glad I did watch it and I'm happy to commend it to you. Light the fire, pour a glass of wine and snuggle up on the sofa. Allow yourself to slip into the ladies world and you'll find yourself in good company, even if they are strangers. I'll give it 8/10.


Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Dallas Buyers Club



This film has been staring at me from the 'waiting to be watched' shelf for some time - last night it won. This is a powerful film. The acting is powerful. The story is powerful. The depth of human existence it explores is powerful as is the hope that it points to. At a time when America needs a popular mass movement to co-ordinate its resistance against a deaf and self-serving government, to re release this film as inspiration might be a timely thing to do!

Set in the 1980s world of macho cowboy Texas, this film features a community where rodeo bull riding, alcohol, sex and drugs are the normal activities, for the men, punctuated only by having to go to work for those lucky enough to have a job. At one point the lead character describes normal life as "ice-cold beer and bull riding".

That may well be the context but the film explores two important areas. Firstly it explores how poorly equipped governments are in terms of their ability to respond quickly and helpfully to emerging new diseases and how the murky waters of pharmaceutical corporations' finances may or may not buy access to markets. Secondly it explores homophobia and transphobia as it tries to explode the myth that HIV and AIDS only exist within, and therefore are only a problem for, the gay and transgender communities.

The central character is Ron Woodroof played by Matthew McConaughey - also a native Texan, who lost a lot of weight (38lbs) to play the role. He doesn't so much play the role as inhabit the character and is fully deserving of the Oscar he picked up for doing so, as is Jared Leto who also won an Oscar for playing trans AIDS patient Rayon. Jennifer Garner puts in a strong performance as Dr Eve Sacks.

McConaughey before losing weight and as Roy Woodroof in the film

The film is based on a true story and gives an authentic feel to the desperate hopelessness of those with HIV and AIDS in the mid 1980s when no reliable treatment or therapy existed. All that was available were trials of possible new treatments with horrific side-effects which seemed to offer some hope for delaying death - and then only if your hospital was chosen by the pharmaceutical companies to take part in the trial (for which they paid the hospital and lead physicians handsomely). Medical ethics and the hippocratic oath come under close scrutiny in this film and the only clinicians that emerge with any integrity are Sacks and Vass who has to practise in Mexico as the US withdrew his licence because he offered the wrong kind of help to those with HIV/AIDS.

Many of the characters travel similar arcs and the narrative is driven by their evolution. To begin with Woodroof is a self-obsessed hedonist who is angry that unprotected sex, drunkenness and drug addiction should have any consequences beyond a hangover. By the end of the film he has changed significantly and is more concerned with helping as many sufferers as possible, rather than his original goal of making as much money as possible. Despite the transformations in all the main characters, including a more accommodating view on gay and transgender people, it is essentially a film that documents how much Woodroof can do before he dies.

It is a sad film, a moving film, but also a film about hope, love, communities of suffering and human ability to rise to a challenge in a time of crisis. It is also a damning indictment of the USA's Food and Drug Administration and how so often it appears to act unilaterally and not in a way that takes account of the outcomes of foreign drug trials - except when it benefits American pharmaceutical companies. It also highlights the inability of the law to act with any compassion and the institutional bureaucracy that underpins government, growing fat in the process.

This is also an important film, not only because it is a very good piece of cinematography with great acting, but through the script it offers a valuable social commentary on a period that has all too easily been forgotten - except by those living with the aftermath of it. If you have strong resolve and can put up with expletive-ridden sentences, then do watch this is you haven't already seen it. For me, it's another film worthy of 9/10!


Saturday, 3 February 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri



Where do I start with this one? If you need cheering up, do not watch this film! This is a complex but, for me, ultimately sad film. The narrative is pretty thin, this film is driven by the characters. For me the best thing about it is the performance of the cast, I just wish the bleak and sad story that carries the film had been more uplifting. This film is a black comedy - very black in places, but the comedic elements were never enough for me to lift things from the anchoring story line and make me laugh.

Set in dysfunctional small-town Ebbing (and actually filmed in North Carolina) we discover a dysfunctional family living in a dysfunctional community whose police force are - yep you've guessed it, dysfunctional.

The central character is Mildred played by Frances McDormand - one of those performances where  grittiness and guilt-driven burning passion combine to produce a character who is completely believable and convincing. Mildred seemingly isn't one for consultation. She acts rather than discusses and usually acts in a way that provokes others to strong reaction. For me, one of the central features of this film was an exploration of how many of the characters chose when to exercise self-restraint and when they allowed themselves to cave-in to their impulses and lash out in retaliation.

Woody Harrelson's Police Chief Willoughby was possibly the only rational and well-balanced character in the film - and then something happens to challenge that analysis - or does it confirm it? Questions - that what the film has left me with, lots of questions. Other strong performances came from Sam Rockwell and Peter Dinklage.

There are tender moments too. When Mildred is being questioned by Chief Willoughby, a sudden development causes her to remark "Oh baby!" with all the tenderness that only a mother can muster. At one point a young deer appears and for a moment the encounter becomes a thin place and you wait for the epiphany - but it doesn't come. Yet again, the film slaps the viewer in the face and drags them off in an unexpected direction to explore yet more relational dysfunction.

The film takes the viewer on an emotional roller-coaster when signs of hope appear and you want them to blossom, but you are never quite sure which ones will come to fruition. Just when you might have an inkling where the story is going, or even that it's reached a natural conclusion and the credits are about to roll, off it lurches in a new direction to explore new avenues of dysfunctionality. The Direction and acting are both very tight and wholly focussed on exploring the characters and their variety of motivations. McDormand must surely be in line for her second Oscar?

If you want to spend a gentle couple of hours in the cinema allowing a story to wash over you - this is not for you! If you have an aversion to profanities - this is not for you. If on the other hand you wish to engage with acting and film making of the highest order, hold tight and board the roller-coaster. As a story, this film would receive a low score but the power of the characters and the acting propels it to a 8/10. Not for the faint-hearted.



Friday, 2 February 2018

The Post



I didn't realise that this was a 'Spielberg film' until the end credits! The narrative is driven not by the acquisition of classified and sensitive government papers regarding the USA's clandestine  involvement in Vietnam over many years, but in the development of Meryl Streep's Kay Graham who moves from timid victim to decisive leader during the course of the film. At nearly two hours long this film relentlessly ground its way to its inevitable conclusion. The only excitement being provided by the suspense of how it was going to get there.

The film is set in the years 1966-72 with the twenty year long Vietnam War in full swing. Where the film does score big is in flagging up the First Amendment to the American Constitution giving the Press freedom of expression as it serves the governed and not the governors. It seems that there is hardly a decade that has passed since WWII that this maxim hasn't been bent and tested to breaking point. The focus of the film invites the viewer to conclude that nothing has been learned and that the current US Administration is at it again. This makes it an urgent film for today.

That this film was rushed out in between other projects, possibly explains the lack of the usual Spielberg dynamic, but its message to today's audience is as well targeted as any of the missiles underneath Mr Trump's big button. It makes plain the current threat to erode and undermine the freedom of the Press and the persistent inability of succeeding administrations to simply tell the truth. It is political drama of the most urgent and current type.

Without the performances of Streep, Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee) and Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), this film would have struggled to stand out. Kay Graham was a mother and a socialite who at the age of 40 inherited the family business and became Publisher of the struggling Washington Post. She had no experience of the workplace and was driven by the maternal instinct to protect the family legacy rather than to confront the wolves on her Board or the investment bankers snapping at her heels. A vulnerable woman lacking in confidence, repeatedly having to try to stand up to aggressive and assertive men in smoke-filled rooms became, for me, an overused cliche throughout the film.

The film explores with some sensitivity the difficulties of Publishers, Editors and Reporters who count politicians among their circle of friends. These are necessary and symbiotic relationships but fraught with potential difficulty. The moral and ethical boundaries can easily become blurred and once one poor judgement is made many others soon follow in its wake. Where the film scores big for me, is in the ending as it sets itself up to almost be the prequel to 1976's All the President's Men which is a very similar film about the Watergate scandal that eventually toppled President Nixon. I wonder what kind of films will be made about President Trump and his legacy in the decades that lie ahead?

This is an important film which should be seen now. Leaders of other nations would do well to heed its message and use it as reminder to check their own use and misuse of media. I wonder if this film will come instantly to mind forty years on in the same way that All The President's Men does today? I doubt it. As a film I'll give it 7/10. As a message to today's White House, I'll give it 11/10!





Thursday, 1 February 2018

Captain Fantastic



After days of reflecting, I still can't decide if this film gives us a naive fantasy or actually has something meaningful to say! It will be hard to discuss it meaningfully without giving anything of the plot away, but I will do my best to limit the damage. It was premiered at Sundance and received nominations for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and at the Oscars - so it must have something going for it, so here goes....

The Cash family have been living an alternative lifestyle in the Washington wilderness for a decade and the six children have all been home schooled. Their parents had good jobs but as anarchists became increasingly disillusioned with mainstream capitalism and withdrew. The family endure a punishing daily fitness regime and are skilled in hunting, mountaineering and a wide range of survival techniques. They live as a mini commune where the parents teach them multiple languages, history, philosophy and politics - all from a position of a strong liberal critique. For me, this film idealises a bohemian bourgeois hipster lifestyle.

The children also learn grammar and calculus as well read the classics on a predetermined schedule to make sure they keep up. Educationally they are years ahead of their peers. The kids are not indoctrinated and are taught to understand and value all sides in a debate but there is little doubt that they are chips off the old block and by osmosis have absorbed their parents' views on most things. Another view would be that through their own inability to engage and change society from within, that both parents are guilty of child abuse on a huge scale.

All is going well until something forces the entire family to travel on the family bus, named Steve, all the way to New Mexico. En route and once there, they have to engage with regular people and this exposes the one thing they are not proficient in - being socially appropriate. This behavioural segregation sets up a number of encounters which if the film is a fantasy are comedic and if it is trying to communicate something serious, extremely sad. Perhaps because for me the film's intention is never clear, I can't decide what kind of film it is.

For me, the film sets out a 'compare and contrast' scenario where the idyllic and altruistic family life of the frontiersman/woman is set against the harsh self-serving individualism of twenty-first century consumerism, where identity is expressed through consumption. For me the film offers a binary choice without offering the opportunity to select which elements of both opposing ideologies could be woven together to create something whose sum is greater than their constituent parts. For me the film puts forward both a thesis and an antithesis but produces no synthesis! Disappointing - or is this the work I am meant to do? Perhaps the way the film ends leaves the door open for a sequel that might explore that.

This film could have been so much more but loses it's defining edge because it is so introspective, which leaves me feeling very frustrated. It does however offer a fertile springboard for discussing the ills of Western society - but in the end does it offer a viable alternative? Overall I remain disappointed which means I must award it 6/10 - but this is a film which is not easily forgotten and I may have to return at some point and be a little more generous.