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 

 

 

 

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.

 

The Jungle book, remakes and never forgetting the first time

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We had been queuing for what felt like hours to a  six year old.

We’d talked about taking me to the ‘pictures’ for a while and finally it was happening.

I held his hand so tight. I was buzzing with excitement.

I didn’t know what I was walking into. I didn’t know the impact it would have.

Doors opened, tickets were punched and the combined smell of fresh and old popcorn wafted past my nose. We sat down the lights dimmed and it started.

A young boy abandoned, raised by wolves, hunted by a tiger and told all about life’s necessities by a singing bear.

I came out enraptured by what I’d seen and asked him immediately when we could go again.

My Dad took me to my first film at the Strand cinema (now Arts Centre) in East Belfast back in the mid eighties and I’ve loved the cinema experience ever since. I hold that memory closely and dearly.*

This weekend sees the release of Jon Favereau’s interpretation of the Kipling/Disney classic and often remakes of films can be questioned by bloggers/critics like myself.

  • Why do we need this?
  • Why can’t Hollywood give us more original output?
  • A perfectly good jungle book already exists etc.

I’m not against remakes completely for one simple reason.

This weekend somewhere a six year old boy will hold his Dad’s hand and walk into his first cinema experience.

He won’t see the visible pencil lines of those animated Disney classics, just clear, polished, computer enhanced ingenuity.

He probably won’t have to queue outside for long. Online booking and other innovations have solved that ‘problem’.

All being well though he will see something amazing.

Something he remembers for a long time.

Something he falls in love with.

Something that makes him ask ‘when can we go again?’

 

*My Dad has since confessed that our cinema trips were a chance for him to spend time with me but also a great opportunity to catch up on some sleep following night shifts.

 

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.

 

 

 

Review – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

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I said in my last post that I was excited. I was ready for the ultimate showdown. I wanted man vs god. I wanted comic book excitement. I at the very least wanted to be entertained. What I got was one of the most frustrating cinema experiences I have had in a long time.

This is a mess, a film with an incoherent structure, plot, and in Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor one of the most irritating characters of recent times.

Fearing the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the man of steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. With Batman and Superman fighting each other, a new threat, Doomsday, is created by Lex Luthor. It’s up to Superman and Batman to set aside their differences along with Wonder Woman to stop Lex Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.

Sounds like a simple enough plan for a film right?  Those who endured Man of Steel all reacted  in a similar way to Affleck’s Bruce Wayne (who is without question the most miserable Batman we have ever encountered). The reckless destruction of Metropolis did make us question what good Superman was doing and to be fair this was an interesting opening to the film. Almost as if director Zack Snyder wished to give us a cinematic right to reply for his previous endeavours. However once this slows down all plot, logic and reason disappear.

We are left with shots from CNN and the views of various media heads on who Superman is, what good he does or doesn’t do all while he’s off up a mountain with the spirit of his dead Dad for a reason I’m still not sure of!

Meanwhile Jesse Eisenberg is twitching  around like a philosophy student on a Red Bull high form an all night library session. Reciting to the viewer everything he’s ever learnt in class about the nature of God. Somehow he develops something close to a plot to make our two heroes fight each other for something.

There are inexplicable dream sequences, which may point to future film intentions. There is an erratic score. The 3D is headache inducing awful and unnecessary.   There is a good 30 minutes plus of CGI third act incoherent battling. Gal Gadot appears as Wonder Woman appears, which is refreshing, but at the same time not I’m not 100% sure why she was in Metropolis in the first place and she has very little to do or say really.

Ultimately this will film will make a bucket after bucket of cash. My keyboard bashing frustrations will not stop this juggernaut I realise that. My only hope is that a critical lambasting from all corners of the globe may make executives think twice about advancing with this DC universe too hastily.

Captain America – Civil War is next on the superhero cinematic production line and to be fair while Marvel movies can suffer from dullness at times but they at least make sense!

Superhero  fatigue is a reality now. Batman v Superman did absolutely nothing to change that.

 

*Thanks to MovieHouse for screening access

 

 

 

 

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.