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.


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


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


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.