Thursday, 30 October 2014

Films of Faith and Doubt

Next week (Mon-Thu) I am away at this place near Chester to enjoy engaging with a course looking at films of faith and doubt. Apart from being a very great place to stay with good food, the course is run by the Warden, Peter Francis who is an avid film buff and has published widely on film and theology.

What we will be watching include Twelve Years A Slave, Brokeback Mountain, To Kill A Mockingbird, Babette’s Feast, Amadeus and Tomboy, reflecting on them and then discussing them. Great!

So if you are looking for something to do next week, come and join me. Follow the link:

I will blog my reactions to the films - keep an eye out on here.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Gone Girl

Anyone who has travelled by public transport in the Western world over the past two years will have encountered hordes of people glued to Gillian Flynn's novel - it has been ubiquitous. So when David Fincher directs a film based on the book with Flynn writing the screenplay it is reasonable to expect big things.

I hadn't read the book so wasn't too clear on what to expect. This is post-modern literature. It would be difficult to imagine this set in another time period where the plot and subject matter would make sense. Those who have read some of my past reviews will know that I struggle with stories predicated on relational deceit and deception. I struggled with this film - it was gone 2:00 am when I finally got to sleep! This is a deeply cynical and disturbing film with far more violence in it than this morning's bloodfest Fury. It challenges the viewer to decide which way is up and to know precisely what their moral compass is aligned to.

This film offers a view of marriage. A unique and hopefully cautionary view of marriage where prenuptial agreements do the only thing they can - undermine trust and commitment. Is Nick (Ben Affleck) really any different to most ordinary guys? I guess not. Is Amy (Rosamund Pike) really any different to any New York girl? YES - Amazing Amy was a child prodigy who was cajoled and manipulated by her smarmy parents whose immense intellect failed to note that in her development and stardom she was losing touch with the ability to relate to people in a way that evidenced vulnerability and empathy. Nick's chase of Amy at a party shows the wit and repartee of the couple as they joust to win acceptance from the other. Clearly both are very good-looking and attraction at that level is plain to see, but Nick's quest to win this physical and intellectual beauty is forced by Amy to continue on and on and into their marriage. Which is when they begin to encounter problems.

So is this a film about marriage and relationships or is it a film about a spoilt child prodigy who cannot exchange an over-endowment of grey cells for common sense and compassion? Maybe this is a very male reading of the story. Perhaps that is Flynn's genius playing out - presenting to men Nick seduced by New York chic who seems to be the victim, whilst at the same time presenting to women Amy as a wife whose potential and fulfilment becomes limited by a husband with only modest small-town Missouri ambitions.

I won't go into the story or plot so as not to spoil it for anyone who has yet to encounter it. The concept of the story is remarkably clever and the way in which the film is edited greatly heightens the dramatic effect. It is a masterful whodunnit. Affleck gives an extremely convincing performance as does Pike. I first encountered Pike as Miranda Frost in Die Another Day (2002) - another nasty piece of work. I'm sure she's lovely in real life and any dislike of her on my part is wholly down to her excellent acting abilities.

There are some faults with the story - particularly its pacing which after a slow third quarter sprints at hyper-velocity to a less than convincing conclusion. It is clear that some characters in the film don't buy the explanations of what happened but are seemingly unwilling or unable to explore where their intuition points them. However, if you want to see a film that captures the Zeitgeist of contemporary relationship conundrums and causes you to scratch your head as you try to work out exactly what has happened, then this is for you. Of its type this is one of the best - even with its shortcomings. I'll give it 8/10.

Sunday, 26 October 2014


This is a testosterone fuelled macho war film where Brad Pitt playing tank commander Wardaddy guides his four charges through the brutal final days of 'total war' in Germany in April 1945. This film is not pretty or easy to watch but the acting and narrative are both compelling which does make this a film worth engaging with. The film draws on a number of cliches as it mirrors scenes from other war films and parts of it are quite predictable.

With action sequences reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan for their visceral portrayal of war and much of the film spent in the claustrophobic confines of a Sherman tank, it offers an opportunity to explore the indiscriminating horror and consequences of war - even 'just war'. As Wardaddy says "Ideals are peaceful. History is violent". Yes - very violent. Set in a time before PTSD was recognised, it gives glimpses of the psychological pain and terror war inflicts. With so many wars rumbling on around the world today what are we doing to ourselves?

This film packs a lot into the storyline and the character developments are good. Some characters are likeable - others not so. The way the tank crew have fought their way across North Africa, Italy, France and now Germany have made them into a close-knit team. When one of the crew dies early on and the replacement is a church-going typist you get the feeling that rites of initiation are not far off. War is horrible.

Mud is everywhere. Bodies and body parts litter nearly every scene. Cruelty and brutality are ever-present. Yet there is also growth, compassion, tenderness, regret, sacrifice, heroism, hope and love. This film is filled with emotion and people trying to do good things in a bad world. The film also graphically shows how inferior allied armour was in the face of German armour.

I was born in West Germany because of this war - and only 13 years after the film was set! This compels me to explore WWII films with an imperative that some others might not have. It is part of who I am - as it is for countless thousands of others.

Some scenes seemed more than a little unrealistic. I am not an expert but I would imagine that two grenades exploding inside the sealed confines of a tank would do something to the bodies inside the tank. Instead, after the detonation they are remarkably unscathed.

This film will divide opinion. I wonder what you will make of it. At 134 minutes I felt that it didn't drag at all. It's not a must-see film - you will know if it's one for you. I'll give it 7/10.

Some exciting looking films around at the moment!

Happened to be at the cinema this morning and we were treated to trailers for some interesting films - it looks like a busy run in to Christmas. I watched Fury which I am still processing and will see The Gone Girl this evening so they don't appear on this list - but I do fancy seeing all of these:

In the cinemas now a gritty drama about the Troubles in Belfast:


Just out this weekend the sizzling pairing of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook):


Timothy Spall seems to have nailed a character performance of some note as he brings us this biopic out on 31 October

Mr Turner

The following week sees Christopher Nolan's latest offering of space travel and wormholes:


On the 14 November we have a gritty and violent thriller featuring James Gandolfini:

The Drop

The same week sees the release of Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly starring in the WWII biopic of the genius Alan Turing cracking the Enigma Code:

The Imitation Game

Then on November 20th we have the long awaited third instalment of the four part trilogy!

Mockingjay Part 1

That little lot should keep me busy for a few weeks! Enjoy.