Should my child watch this film??


When you become known for being a fan of something it quickly becomes a go to conversation topic for folk.

For me as a film addict and film club organiser in a church setting I have regular after service film chats with many different people.

This is something I love. The ‘Have you seen….’ conversation paired with ‘What did you think of…….?’ are two of the most regular conversations. More recently I have been approached by parents asking my opinion on certain films that are classified 12A. In particular they want to know if I feel the film in question would be suitable for their son/daughter to watch. I am aways flattered that they feel I’m the person to ask however the question is not easily answered.

If you are a reader from outside the UK let me explain. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) website states that a 12A certificate means that “No one younger than 12 may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult.”

Clear enough you may say so where do I struggle?

The problem for me lies in giving an opinion on whether or not a particular young person would enjoy a 12A film given some content can be ‘top end’ of what qualifies as a 12A and may in fact be closer to a 15 certificate .

A recent example is the Hunger Games, which, when first classified by the BBFC was determined to be a 15 (i.e no one younger than 15 may see the film in a cinema). However given the target audience for the film recommendations were made in order to reduce classification to a 12A.

When released on DVD however some of the old footage was reintroduced (blood spatter, lingering shots of corpses etc.) and a 15 certificate granted.

So how do you gauge if a 12A is appropriate for your child? In the past I have likened the argument for taking a young person to a 12A to spicy food…………Stay with me.

If you ask 4 people round a dinner table if a particular dish is spicy you may well receive four different answers.

The thing is everyone has a differing tolerance for spicy food. Some can’t cope with more than a mild korma and some love flaming hot dishes.

Likewise some young people will watch some ‘top end’ 12A films such as the Hunger Games and not be affected by anything they see. Others may not be able to cope at all with the violence and themes involved.

Ultimately only the parent knows the tolerance levels their child has for what they will see on screen. I have been in cinemas where parents have left with children as unexpected reactions are not that unusual. This is why I steer clear of a yes/no answer and instead point parents to the excellent BBFC website and advise them to look up the specific film to see what the content is. They will hopefully then be better equipped to determine if their child should watch.

No film critic or blogger like me should ever say if a young person should/can watch a particular film nor can the BBFC. The only people capable of ascertaining the best answer are those who know the young person best in this instance the parent.


Review: The Look of Silence


Come see a film about the consequences of the Indonesian massacre is perhaps not the best sell for a Monday evening film club outing but none the less I persevered with my choice and was delighted that a handful of brave souls joined me.

I have to say I;m so pleased that I saw this film. The Look of Silence is quite possibly one of the great documentaries of our time. Haunting, compelling, visually stunning and emotionally draining all in 103 minutes. Joshua Oppenheimer has not just made a documentary but a work of art.

I shouldn’t have been surprised after all his previous documentary the Act of Killing was also wonderful. This companion piece to me though is slightly superior given the content.

The Act of Killing focused on the perpetrators, who bragged unabashed about the carnage they caused and with great pride reenacted their deeds with great aplomb for the cameras. The Look of Silence follows the story of Adi, an optometrist, who lost his brother during the Indonesian massacre when his village was taken over by the military and ‘communists’ were cold heartedly executed in droves. Ari gets the opportunity to meet his brother’s killers and talk openly to them about what happened.

Ari’s focus is not vengeance but conversation. A conversation to enable understanding. A conversation to bring him some peace.

The truly wonderful moments in this documentary are the silent ones. The moments were survivor and perpetrator stop conversation and the camera continues to roll. We see Adi swallow hard, perhaps swallowing some emotion, perhaps worried that his next question may take him too far,

We see those who murdered glance across to check if they are going to encounter anger. A fleeting glance to the floor perhaps to show a flicker of remorse. A look of defiance that rises again to justify their actions.

Adi’s mother with a permanent scowl of anger at the injustice her family suffered. Staying off into the distance reflecting on what might have been if her son had lived.

While the conversations are useful and engaging it is the silence that is the show stealer.

Coming out of the screening I was struck by Adi’s courage, angered by the justification given by killers and heart-broken at a mothers loss.

Mostly though I pondered how each person comes to the conversation in The Look of Silence with a different perspective of something that happened.

When we are wronged, when we are hurt, how so we look at our circumstances?

Do we cling to anger and wish hardship on those who wronged us?

Do we justify away our actions because we are so sure we did or said the right thing?

Or do we attempt to have a conversation. Not for confrontation but to attempt understanding?

The Look of Silence is not an easy watch.

It is however, in my opinion, an essential one.

12 Years A Slave: We are not finished yet


Recently I had the privilege of seeing 12 Years A Slave with our church film club.

I say privilege as to say pleasure somehow doesn’t feel right.

What I witnessed was not just a film but a gut wrenching, emotion packed, beautifully shot piece of work that will to my mind be one of the films spoken about in the future as a true classic.

Once the film finished I was left emotionally drained and speechless (not an easy task) and felt unable to leave straight away. I was  compelled to sit, to ponder, to reflect.

To be honest I still don’t feel as if I have fully processed everything I saw.

Much was written about the brutally realistic depiction of slavery so I was aware of what I may experience going in. However I wasn’t prepared for what would trouble me most.

The graphic nature of the film is a contributing factor t creating great unease in the viewer. The scene showing Patsy (one of Epps’ slaves) being whipped first by Solomon and then plantation owner Epps was particularly graphic. Patsy’s screams are part of the film that will stay with me for a very long time and it was not easy to sit in comfort watching the flesh tear from her body.

Even more disturbing for me though was the section in which Epps (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Fassbender) stands in front of his slaves and with all authority available to him, reads a Biblical passage using it as a justification for the treatment of his charges.

This disturbed me more than the scenes of physical abuse as it was done with such conviction, such belief, such authority that I was horrified that it made me feel physically sick.

I think the main reason for my reaction was the realisation that this biblical justification is sadly not time bound. Watching 12 Years A Slave left me contemplating not only what have Christians justified away ‘biblically’ in our past but also in our present.

For all the progress we have made as a society we still have a long way to go.

Slavery still exists, albeit in a different form, in today’s trafficking of children and adults across the world. We still have a way to go.

Issues such as equal marriage are dismissed by some who stand declaring their faith openly in government and quoting scripture as infallible. We still have a way to go.

Communities are still divided and treated with suspicion and demonised by their opposites and neighbours. We still have a way to go.

We have progressed but 12 Years A Slave also does not let us off tht lightly. It also shows us that we as human beings are all unfinished, imperfect and ultimately still work in progress.

Are you sitting uncomfortably…..great!


Next week sees the return of our church film club for 2014. First up is going to be 12 Years A Slave.

Have to say I am excited. I have said in previous posts why I love our little film club but this is one I’m really looking forward to.

Not only am I looking forward to seeing the film even more than tha tI;m looking forward to the discussion afterwards. A trip to the cinema for enjoyment is great I’m a big advocate for that. Stressful day at work the new Marvel comic book film is out perfect. Losing myself in a fictional world  and letting stress melt away is perfect for me.

This is going to be different. This is going to be difficult, emotional, graphic and hopefully most of all thought provoking.

Director Steve McQueen has never shied away from difficult topics. The Hunger Strike in Northern Ireland, the death of Bobby Sands in his first film Hunger and sex addiction in Shame have been covered in his previous two releases.

He does not make comfortable cinema.

He certainly does not make film appropriate for a church group like ours to go and see as part of a film club.

Or does he?

I would argue that McQueen absolutely does make films that should be watched by groups like ours.

To fully engage with our culture around us we need to be able to talk about issues like sex. We can’t do that if we shy away from issues like those depicted in Shame. 

Here in Northern Ireland we need to watch Hunger, we need to understand that story. We need to understand why it is revered on one side of our community and despised by the other. We need to reflect and where appropriate show grace to those wronged.

We need to watch 12 Years A Slave and cringe at the lack of humanity in the atrocities carried out and as a church group look at the biblical justification for slavery and discuss how our faith has evolved.  

I understand that these films do not provide all the answers and there are bigger stories than those that can be depicted in a couple of hours on screen but we do need to watch these films.

To start the difficult conversations maybe we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

Lawless & Film Club


So film club went to see Lawless and lived to tell the tale!

I had concerns about the violence in the film as expressed in a previous post. Truth is I shouldn’t have worried there were no complaints (that I know of) although I know I winced on a few occasions.

Tom Hardy is the show stealer in this film giving a powerful performance through presence. A man of few words but can say a lot through some well placed grunting. Hardy is developing into of one of the finest actors of his generation and this film could be a defining moment for him.

The lovely folk over at Movie Writing have written a full review that I will reblog in order to give more background info on the film plot etc.

Lawless is focused on justice. Outlaws who deserve justice due to the frankly abhorrent Special Deputy played with menacing finesse by Guy Pearce.

At the end of the day human nature craves justice for those who are wronged regardless of their circumstances. The men portrayed are criminals but the injustices they suffer are greater therefore we empathise and will them on to prevail.

Justice is a biblical concept, we should seek justice for the oppressed, for the abused, for those who have experienced wrongs in fact we are commanded to in Isaiah 1:17
“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Micah 6:8  also tells us
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Lawless is potentially one of the films of the year. It is also a  cry to remember that everyone is entitled to justice.


A great review of Lawless is here by Amy at Movie Writing

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – Film Club & Church


So after much discussion it was decided that our church (Fitzroy Presbyterian in Belfast) should start its own film club. This is not purely for film addicts but an opportunity for those within the church community to get together in a social setting and enjoy a good film, catch up with friends and hopefully make some new ones. Also by using our local cinema as a venue we hope to become a more visible presence in the community we serve.

However once the idea becomes reality and the green light is given then the power and responsibility aspect comes into play. I have am co-ordinating operations and have selected our first film. It took me a while as I wrestled with the question – ‘how do you choose a suitable film for a church film club’? Throwing myself in at the deep end I opted for (the Nick Cave scripted) Lawless.

This tale of brother bootleggers and gangsterism could potentially be one of the films of the year. Certainly there is enough star power to make it a contender (and Shia Leboeuf is in it too). On making my selection and letting people know the plan I THEN decided to watch the trailer and panicked. There was a lot of guns, and lots of shots of punches being thrown and I wondered have I got this right? Is a film which contains a lot of violence suitable for a church film club.

I came to the conclusion that it will depend on how the portrayal of this violence is played out on screen. Often violence can be intentional in order to give insight into a particular character and their mindset.

Martin Scorsese is the master of this. His films are often violent but,for me, never without purpose. Watch Joe Pesci’s performance in Goodfellas or Raging Bull, these are perfect examples of violence being used to highlight the unstable nature of the individual portrayed. Without it the character would lack threat and menace. The audience would never be on edge at the appropriate moments when he is on screen if his violent tendencies were not correctly portrayed.

Violence is not something Christians should shy away from (the Bible is full of it!) and the world we live in is becoming increasingly violent. Conversations need to be had about its use in film and how the far reaching impact can be negative if used in the wrong way.

Hopefully our film club will provide the platform for that. I will keep you posted as to how we get on.