Review: Son of Saul (dir. László Nemes)

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Writing a review of Son of Saul is no easy task. First and foremost it must be said that this is, for me , one of the must see films of 2016. However it must also be stated that is in no way an enjoyable or easy watch.

The film depicts two days in the life of Saul Auslander, a Hungarian prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando. These men not only have to endure living in one of the Nazi camps but have the task of staffing the camps, helping in the process of  genocide by carrying out the menial tasks for their overlords. The herding of prisoners, the searching and destruction of their clothes and the burning of their bodies all fall to them.

Saul is in a living hell, a place where the screams and fruitless thuds on gas chamber doors haunt the camp and souls of all the Sonderkommando. After witnessing the death of a young Jewish boy, Saul sets about attempting to bury the corpse and find a rabbi in order to give the boy a ‘proper’ funeral and attempt to restore some dignity.

Throughout the film we are on Saul’s shoulder, the camera following him through all the horror and devastation that surrounds him. We as the audience are the muted conscience. Witnessing everything as Saul does but unable to tell him to stop or fight. Saul himself is an emotionless vessel. Worn down by staffing the camps, for what we assume to be,  a period of time he has no emotion left. This is understandable, this is his coping mechanism. In fact it is until the film’s climax where the emotionless expression cracks.

While we spend our time on Saul’s shoulder the audience is protected to some extent. Most of what is surrounding Saul is blurred out, no events are hidden rather inference takes the lead. I have to say inference is the viewer’s friend as if we were to watch this film directly through the eyes of Saul  it would not be unable to escape and 18 classification here in the UK.

In regard to the certification I feel a 15 certification is appropriate and important. This classification will allow a slightly younger audience see this film. It allows them to see the horror of that period. To see the worst of humanity and to see how humanity survives in the worst of circumstances.

This is not just a historical piece. This film also has an inescapable relevance.

When we consider events in Syria and the displacement of so many people it is clear that humanity is still capable of despicable acts. Given the reaction to the migrant crisis in certain quarters it is clear that we still have a long way to go.

I have no issue in recommending Son of Saul. It is a harrowing experience. It is not easy to watch at points. This however is a film that needs to be watched.

It needs to be watched in order to remind us of the past and to make us intentional about our future.

Son of Saul is in cinemas from 29th April 

 

 

 

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Review: Demolition (dir. Jean Marc-Vallée)

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Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker, struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash. Despite pressure from his father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper), to pull it together, Davis continues to unravel. What starts as a complaint letter to a vending machine company turns into a series of letters revealing startling personal admissions. Davis’ letters catch the attention of customer service rep, Karen (Naomi Watts), and, amidst emotional and financial burdens of her own, the two form an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her son Chris (Judah Lewis), Davis starts to rebuild, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew.

Jake Gyllenhaal continues his wander down the alternative/indie cinema track with this study of PTSD, loss and healing. I found this film to be enjoyable in parts but overall it is a film unsure of what it wants to be.

The film suffers from two plot lines pulling for equal attention. On one hand you have the tale of a tragic loss and the consequential falling apart of a man dealing with the repercussions of the loss of his wife. Running alongside this is the other story of the relationship between Davis and Karen as they help to heal each other form their loss and loneliness.

The film however never picks which of these elements is the main thread and that for me was problematic. Both are worthy tales, both have their interesting plot points but the lack of direction for the viewer in which of these is the film’s primary focus was an issue.

This is not to say that the film is not interesting or entertaining. Gyllenhaal gives another great performance and is one of the best out there. One sequence where he dances down the street, while wearing headphones, is particularly entertaining. The film also despite its subject has a lovely sense of humour which is helpful given the issues raised.

Demolition is an interesting idea for a film and certainly could be viewed alongside films such as Take Shelter in terms of its depiction of mental health issues. It is a film that if more focused would be more memorable but as a potential alternative to Captain America: Civil War (also released this weekend) it would certainly be worth a look.

Demolition is on general release from 29th April.

Thank to MovieHouse for screening access.

 

Belfast Film Festival 2016 Review : Green Room (dir. Jermey Saulnier)

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If you’ve read anything about Green Room you would probably be quite surprised to see a review on a blog under the moniker of Films and Faith.

This is the beauty of film festivals. The opportunity to see something outside of the norm. Outside the comfort zone. Incidentally if you are looking for a cinematic comfort zone Green Room is certainly not the film for you. I’m not normally one for gore inflected thriller/shocker but the promise of Patrick Stewart as the head of a neo-Nazi gang was too good to pass up.

Green Room  is the follow-up to 2013 film from Jeremy Saunier Blue Ruin (currently available on Netflix if you want to check that out) set firmly in the revenge thriller genre . To follow this up with a film like Green Room indicates that Saunier has a love and great knowledge of genre and he has no intention of letting up.

Unsigned punk band the ‘Ain’t Rights’ are booked to play an impromptu gig at a seedy bar in the middle of nowhere frequented by a neo-Nazi gang. When they accidentally witness  a murder the band find themselves in a fight for survival and look to escape from  the maniacal grasp of gang lead leader, played with ice cool menace by PAtrick Stewart.

I don’t want to say much more as to go into detail of incidents and deaths (of which there are many) would give too much away. Suffice to say I sat in my seat for 90 mins all sense on high alert and feeling the tension on-screen. The audience joined in with appropriate noises of disgust and awe making the film one of the most enjoyable audience experiences I’ve had in a while.

This is a film that has you on the edge of your seat from early on. Once the characters are defined and the setting complete the fun begins and it doesn’t let up until the final few minutes when all is resolved and daylight breaks through.

It may shock readers when I say I really enjoyed Green Room. I winced, I fidgeted, I tried (at points) had my fingers in my ears as a defence mechanism but I had a really great cinema experience.

Certainly Green Room will be too much for some, one couple in front of me had enough around the hour mark, but if you can stomach it Green Room will not disappoint.

Green Room is on general release from 13 May

 

Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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In 2002 my wife and I were dating and as was our weekly custom we would stock up on cinema snacks and head off into 90 mins of rom com. We saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding during this time and we laughed, several times in fact. Characters were enjoyable, the story worked (as well as any rom com story does), the outsider being rejected and then  welcomed into the bosom of the overbearing family was a story that had  heart and made us smile. It has continued to do when we catch the film on TV and has held its charm. So we sat down last night in our local cinema, popcorn in hand and looked forward to what we hope would be a happy reunion.

Sadly it wasn’t to be. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 has none of the original’s quality.

The tag line on the poster tells you really all you need to know.

‘People change. Greeks don’t’ 

To be more accurate it should read

‘People change. Sadly this lot haven’t’

Everyone in this film is still stuck attempting the same gags from 14 years ago. No one in the entire family has moved on the only notable exception being that Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) now have a teenage daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris). I felt a lot of sympathy for Paris as she looks at her family with great embarrassment, disdain and despair  as the audience do. This family that charmed and amused me are now in 2016 loud, boorish and irritating on a massive scale.

We get to experience another family wedding as it is revealed that Toula’s parents were never officially married and the only other plot of note is the whether or not Paris stays close to home or goes away for college. Other than that there are only half-hearted attempts at humour and every character looks wearied by this enforced reunion. I only laughed twice and for a film billed as a comedy this simply is not good enough.

I left the cinema pondering if my sense of humour has changed but if the original film still works  and garners laughter (certainly more than twice) then it can’t be me.

A poor story, insufficient laughter and the lack of necessity for this sequel (did anyone wonder what happened to these characters after the original?)  made this a rather pointless and wasted trip to the cinema.

Review: Zootropolis

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Amidst the hype and publicity machine of Batman v Superman, Disney have been relatively gentile in their  publicity of new film Zootropolis (otherwise known as Zootopia in the States). Having seen a trailer prior to a screening of Kung Fu Panda 3, my 7 year old turned to me and declared ‘We HAVE to go and see that!’. How could I refuse??

Zootropolis os the story of Judy Hopps the first ever bunny police officer determined to change the world and make Zootropolis a better place. Zootroplois is a world in which all animal life has evolved to into a civilised society where prey and predator live harmoniously side by side. Hopps soon discovers not all is as it seems as some citizens have gone missing and returned to their ‘savage’ state. To solve the case Hopps must team up with the most unlikely of allies Nick Wilde the crafty fox.

I can’t begin to express how much joy Zootropolis gave me. This wonderful societal allegory made me smile from minute one and I’m still grinning ear to ear as I type. It is a timely film. In a world where hate and fear can be the dominating narrative, Zootropolis aims to be the cinematic antidote. Wonderfully poignant and with a great sense of humour the film never drops its pace, never loses its humour and stays on message throughout.

The film has within it plenty to enjoy for kids and adults alike, a Breaking Bad gag towards the end, lots of little incidental nods to other Disney films and so much going on in the background that repeated viewing may be essential.

The message of Zootropolis is not subtle but it is welcomed.Every animal plays their part and every animal’s skill is celebrated. Sloth’s processing vehicle licensing paperwork a particular highlight.

Hope remains that society will overcome stereotypes, judgemental attitudes and prejudice. Society can progress, move forward and evolve. Zootropolis may just be the blueprint we have been waiting for.

After the dirge and bleakness of Batman v Superman, Zootropolis was a great cinematic palette cleanser.

 

 

 

The Man of Steel, Easter & Destroying Structures

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Tonight I’m off to a Batman v Superman preview screening. I’m a bit excited to be honest. While superhero fatigue is at an all time high for many, this film in particular has excited me. The man vs god angle depicted in the various trailers grabs my attention. Now I’m aware that trailers can lie but I’m intrigued by the premise.

Superman has always had a god like quality. In fact for much of Man of Steel director Zack Snyder does a not so subtle job of reinforcing this. For example in one sequence having a praying Clark Kent in front of a stained glass window where his and the pose of Jesus are practically identical. I liked this aspect of the film of course (that’s my gimmick here) but it could have been a lot more delicately done. Snyder though is not a director known for subtlety.

The films loses its way in the final third and becomes one big CGI brawl that goes on for FAR too long. At one point our hero saves some people from falling debris and they exclaim their gratitude. At the time I laughed as I thought, yes to be saved is great but your city has been destroyed so good look getting a pint of milk when this is all over.

However this perhaps the most Jesus like moment.

Saviour yes but also also the destroyer of structures around us.

Easter is days away. Holy week is at the mid point and as Christians we await Good Friday and the East Sunday celebrations that follow. I’ve wrestled with Easter this year. I’m uncomfortable with it.

I’ve come to the point where if I’m not prepared to fully get behind the Easter story there really is no point. To believe what I do and believe in the person of Christ means that the structures that contain the message need to fall.

One of the first things to go on Good Friday is the temple curtain. This barrier to the holy of holies, the area where God lived only accessible to temple priests  is gone. The reveal of nothing being behind there says a lot. The man made concept of where God abides is gone.

To fully believe in Easter. To fully believe in the person of Christ means not only believing in the one who saves it’s also about believing in the structure breaker.

Review :Kung Fu Panda 3

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A third instalment in the Kung Fu Panda series wasn’t exactly something I was highly anticipating this year. I enjoyed the original and I remember nothing of the second film (never a good sign). I  am therefore pleased to report that Kung Fu Panda 3 is a lot of high kicking family fun.

When Po’s long-lost panda father suddenly reappears, the reunited duo travels to a secret panda paradise to meet scores of hilarious new panda characters. But when the supernatural villain Kai begins to sweep across China defeating all the kung fu masters, Po must do the impossible-learn to train a village full of his fun-loving, clumsy brethren to become the ultimate band of Kung Fu Pandas.

Kung Fu Panda has always dealt with the discovery of self. This film is no different Po faces his past to reconcile the circumstances he faces in the present. The initial meeting between Po and his father is one of the stand out moments. Their bumbling nature and lack of smarts are hilarious as dumbstruck villagers look on.

A stellar voice cast are in top form and in particular J K Simmons as bad guy Kai has gone straight into my top 5 cinematic bad guys. This a bad guy who is a threat, who is an intimidating presence and still has some great comedy moments all of which are carried out perfectly.

Beautiful animation, plenty of laughs meant that both I and my daughter had a great time. Kung Fu Panda 3 is a perfect family popcorn guzzling day out at the cinema and sometimes that’s all you need.