Review: Inherent Vice

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Reviewing any Paul Thomas Anderson film is tricky. Not that they are bad (they very rarely are) they simply are difficult to describe. There is so much involved in an Anderson film that being able to write coherently about plot, character etc is not easy. Inherent Vice is no different.

Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon (the first of his works to be adapted) Inherent Vice is based around the permanently stoned detective Doc played by Joaquin Phoenix. The film starts off simply enough with a missing person case however this case soon takes on multiple layers, an increasing cast of outlandish characters and much like the haze of Doc’s dope filled character fleets from moments of striking clarity to fuzzy logic in a heartbeat.

So many great performances from a stellar cast. Not only Phoenix but Josh Brolin’s straight laced cop known to many as Bigfoot almost steals the show. Reese Witherspoon is great Benicio Del Toro is great (and should be onscreen more). Even Owen Wilson is bearable. These characters are sometimes so fleeting that it is perfectly feasible that you could blink and miss them. I’m still not convinced that all the characters are real, some appear to be so random in the appearances they make that they may be nothing more than a figment of Doc’s drug fuelled imagination.

The film deals with so many issues too not only but politics, the change in the drug scene and the darkness of the move towards heroine, the end of hippy culture, the changing physical landscape of LA and cult religions to name a few.

The rambling nature of this review in some ways tells you all you need to know. This film should be seen. It will possibly frustrate and alienate some viewers. It may take a second or possibly a third pass before all the pieces fall in place but I would fully recommend it. More accessible than some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work but retaining a lot of his most frustrating and vintage touches Inherent Vice gives me the munchies for more.

Fight Church: Cage Fighting vs. Selective Quoting

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How can the church engage the man/woman in the street in 2015? A question often posed around tables of friends as  we chat, discuss our faith and raise concerns that the church (by which I mean all denominations /faiths) is out of step with the world in 2015.

In the United States this is being somewhat resolved by several churches having ‘MMA based ministries’. Fight Church is a great documentary (available on Netflix) exploring these ministries and their purpose and moreover the rationale of churches using MMA as outreach.

I’m all for the church being seen as relevant. This blog’s main purpose is to champion the faith bsed elements of what we watch however I was troubled by what I saw at times in this film.

Selective bible quotes have always troubled me. Take a verse out of context and it can be very easily manipulated to suit your circumstances. For example’ where 2 or 3 are gathered’ to warm the souls of the 4 people who faithfully came to a prayer meeting. Forgive me for the flippant example but this is nowhere nearly as sinister as some selective quotes used to justify those who step in the ring and endure brutal beatings.

One particularly troubling sequence shows a pastor bemoaning the fact that men are no longer men. Apparently we have become soft and the Bible calls to live the life of a warrior. He then proceeds to make light of those who ‘love their neighbour’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ seemingly forgetting the true strength it takes to do this.

I’m not against MMA. I’m not against churches using it as a form of outreach. It is a genuine ministry for some, it works for them and many in the documentary attest to how their church has grown as a result.

What I am not for however are churches selecting parts of scripture for use to make people feel weak, cast out and left feeling that God would deem them undesirable because they don’t match up to someone else.

The church needs to be relevant, it needs to be engaging people differently in 2015. What it doesn’t need to do is make them feel worthless if they don’t match up to h random verse taken out of context on a topic.

The damage an MMA fight can do, in most cases, is reparable.

Sadly however the damage caused by selective biblical quoting sadly may not be fixable at all.

Review: Testament of Youth

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Testament of Youth is based on memoir of Vera Brittain cited by many as the voice of a generation and perfectly encapsulating life before, during and after World War I.

I’m not normally a fan of period dramas or for that matter war films. Testament of Youth however is a welcome change and indeed an eye opener to the realities of WWI through the eyes of a young Brittain, played wonderfully by Alicia Vikander.

Throughout the film Vera challenges the stereotypes of her day, studying at Oxford and then as so many of her era signing up to join the war effort. However Vera’s perspective is refreshingly different for the viewer as she signs up as a nurse and tending to the wounded on both sides of the conflict. It was a pleasing change to not head to the front lines as is so often the case in these films although I can categorrically state that the film loses no impact for this.

The scenes of Vera tending to German solidiers is genuinely touching. This is no glorification of the British effort as is so often the case. The sequences in which Vera deals with injured German soldiers are heartbreaking. The conflict in her character is tangible on the realisation of what she must do. However after short contemplation the triumph of humanity is displayed, love for neighbour winning out over and above predisposed  positions and prejudices.

The film does not hold back in depciting the grime of the war. You can feel every squelch of mud as Vera makes her way across base camps. Sequences showing those in the trenches covered in mud staring down the barrel of the camera and ultimately their destinies as the voice over tells their tale in letters to loved ones are hard to forget. Not to mention the many graphic injuries that the viewer is faced with.

All these elements hammer home that the war was no glamarous venture a fact whihc is sadly lacking  in today’s Call of Duty gaming age.

This is not a cut and dry love story. That is merely a fraction of what is involved in this film. Scrape the surface and there is much more to be found.

Vera Brittain was not a typical woman of her time. Testament of Youth is not a typical period drama war film.

*Testament of Youth is now available on Netflix

Exodus: Gods, Kings and Conversation Starters

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Exodus: Gods and Kings is an attempt to reinvigorate the biblical films that were once Hollywood gold. Telling the story of Moses and the Hebrew Exodus, Ridley Scott takes things to an epic scale with his interpretation of the well known tale.

The key thing though is that this is his INTERPRETATION. As per usual when a biblical film surfaces so do the standard Christian criticisms ‘it doesn’t stick to the text’, ‘God depicted as a child?’, ‘it is full of bad theology’, ‘the plagues didn’t happen that way’ etc.

This troubles me. The desire among some to knock down rather than build up is a worrying trait that is such a turn off to engaging with Christianity.

This film is flawed, it is not perfect. For one thing it is not clear throughout the film which side we are supposed to be on. Should we be routing for the emancipation of the Hebrews or should we empathise with the Egyptians particularly as they face plague after plague sent by God to free his people?

A flawed film however does not mean it is without merit. Films like this and the recent Noah film should should be great opportunities for conversations about our faith. Rather than focusing on the negatives the positive opportunities should be embraced.

The film asks difficult questions around God and the tendency towards violence (particularly in the Old Testament) and how we square that with our faith in 2015.The depiction of God as a child is somewhat interesting in this regard as it almost depicts God as the petulant child non wavering its desire to achieve the end result regardless of the consequences. There is a difficult conversation to be had in this regarding the difference between the Old and New Testament and what each teaches about faith. Finding those willing to have this conversation is almost as challenging as the thought itself!

For those who argue that it doesn’t stick to the text my argument is why would it? Any adapted screen play in Hollywood makes changes tr cuts to the text from which it it is taken but we are seem unable to apply this thinking to biblical films for some reason. The thinking being we should stick faithfully to the text as it it is deemed by some infallible. I don’t buy into this argument at all as the text taken word for word on screen may not be the most engaging for a viewer and dare I even suggest which translation we use???!!

Exodus: Gods and Kings is a decent watch engaging in places and epic in scenic scale. It is flawed, it is not perfect, that however does not mean we should not talk about it.