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.

 

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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.

Spotlight, Outsiders & Church

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Not enough has been written about the role of Liev Schreiber and his role in spotlight. Yes Ruffalo is great, Keaton outstanding and Tucci wonderfully manic in their roles but Liev Schreiber for me was the key role.

Schreiber plays Marty Baron the new boss of the Boston Globe. He is an outsider. His non interest in sports is the first red flag thrown in the film never mind his Jewish faith background in a city dominated by the Catholic church.  This however is the key to Baron he is not like the others and by being an outsider he does not hold the same ideals in relation to the church. While others on the Spotlight team profess to be ‘lapsed’ or ‘non-practicing’ it is the difference that drives him on. He does not hold the church in the same regard and therefore encourages the team to investigate the allegations when the team has reservations.

The outsider holds the key.

So what of the church today? How comfortable are we with the outsider?

How comfortable are we when someone not like us enters ‘our world’ and points out our flaws?

I saw a quote this week that got me thinking

“…we know when we are really preaching and living the way of Jesus because it’s the Christians that are often most offended….”

– David Capener

All too often, when challenged,  offence becomes the go to reaction. Outsiders are not afraid to let us within the church know when we aren’t getting it right. Yet we often take it badly. Offence is so often the go to feeling. Often that is because the truth is uncomfortable. The truth will push us outside our comfort zones.

Personally I’d rather be outside my comfort zone that have my faith stagnate. Without the challenges from outsiders my faith becomes a pointless character accessory that can be reduced to a social media bio point or degraded to a meaningless hashtag.

The outsiders are vital.

We are called to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner.

Yet when we are called on it we become uncomfortable.

We need the outsiders.

They might understand Jesus better than we claim to.

 

 

 

Review: Spotlight

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Spotlight won’t win the awards it deserves this weekend. Oscar will overlook this film as it looks to The Revenant to wow Hollywood and the world beyond. I’ve written several times about The Revenant already this year and how I have been blown away by it’s achievements but Spotlight may be the better film.

Spotlight does what any film should. It tells a story really well. While Leonardo DiCaprio was eating raw bison liver and using a horse for a sleeping bag this group of fine acting talent were playing the roles of journalists investigating a story that shook the world. Did Leonardo do a great job absolutely, but this group excelled.

The difference in the two films to me is that The Revenant tells a fairly simple revenge tale through the blurred lens of multiplex action and arthouse wonder. Spotlight however tells a multi layered and difficult story in the most simplistic of ways.

Each member of this ensemble (the buzz word of moment among critics)  cast plays their part to perfection from Michael Keaton leading the team in the role of Robby Robinson to Mark Ruffalo’s intrepid Mike Rezendes it is really hard to define who is the lead in the piece. Nobody involved attempts to take centre stage. The real life story of Spotlight was a team effort and the film very much reflects that through its cast.

The Spotlight tale is well documented by now and it is hard to write anything close to a review without getting into ‘spoilers’ on some level. Spotlight is the true story of how the Boston Globe investigative journalist team  uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core is well known to many by now. The uncovering of these horrendous acts spread right across the globe and had an impact far beyond Boston.

While the church is the clearly the culprit the film does not demonise the institution completely. Instead time is taken to acknowledge that all players involved knew the dark truth deep down but looked the other way.

A special mention must be given to Liev Schreiber for his portrayal Marty Baron the outsider who interrupts the Globe’s world with no interest in the Redsox baseball team and due to his Jewish roots no link to the Catholic church. He is the key to the abuse being uncovered as he subtly refuses to let the story go and gently encourages the team to take it on.

This film is also a wonderful nod to a time we have lost memory of in our high spped broadband world. A time piece showing the way journalism used to be just before the internet era exploded and widened all our horizons (for better or worse). These journalists had to work for their story. There were clippings to be read, physical files to lifted from storage units and trollied to recipients, doorsteps to be walked on. True investigative journalism is the hero in this tale. Pre Google and long before the term click bait headline was even conceived this film salutes those who worked harder for their craft than those that walk the same beat today. I as a blogger am proof that anyone can attempt to write but Spotlight shows the value of true journalism.

With the Oscars this weekend to would be lovely to think Spotlight stands a chance.

The Revenant will more than likely prevail but there would be no complaints from me if Spotlight managed to take the limelight for itself.

 

 

Room: Innocence lost to wider horizons

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Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is a stunning piece of work. Revolving around the story of Jack (Jacob Tremblay) & Ma (Brie Larson) this tale is simultaneously harrowing and uplifting and will surely be in most end of year polls for film of the year.

Continuing 2016’s cinematic theme of overcoming the odds (which I have previously blogged about) Room is the story of mother and son escaping imprisonment and returning to ‘normality’ and the embrace of their family.

The key to the film is  Trembelay in the role of Jack. He is the hero of the piece and the reason for Ma’s desire to escape. It is Jack who, having known nothing else but Room his entire life, adapts best to the outside world. Ma struggles with the new reality, her family struggle with their guilt over what happened and yet Jack endures.

Jack is the one who arguably has the most to overcome. Everything he knew is blown away once he escapes Room. Sky, trees, dogs, other people all are new and all are to be explored. He has the most to overcome and yet he shows the courage and heart to change.

There is something within us as humans that can adapt, change, evolve to whatever circumstances we encounter. It is important to acknowledge that this occurs at differing speeds for all of us but we all have the capacity if we are so minded.

Recently I have been challenged in my faith by many different things. Podcasts, books, conversations with friends. As I wrestle with what my faith is about and what my understanding of who or what God is these new elements have been very useful.

It’s far to dramatic to describe what I’m experiencing as a deconstruction of my faith. I haven’t lost anything. I may have changed my thinking on certain issues but to my mind this is not loss but gain.

I’m grateful for the new voices I have encountered. I’m thankful for their influence and their input into who I am becoming.

For too long my faith has been held within a small compact Room-like space. It’s time to go bigger than that and step out into the unknown.

 

Some podcasts I have been listening to recently that I’ve given reference to above:

The RobCast

HomeBrewed Christianity

Freestyle Christianity

Revolution Church