The true power of Captain America

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But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

In the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU as it is otherwise known I was never really a Captain America fan. I didn’t dislike the character but I boxed him off into all American boy, patriot, soldier who was no big deal and could just throw a shield at people.

Previously I had been a Spider-Man guy. The wise cracking wall crawler with his quick wit and web swinging abilities was my favourite. ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ was the mantra and the cavalcade of colourful, interesting villains also kept me on the hook even when the films were fairly ordinary fare.

As the MCU grew though something in me began to move towards Steve Rodgers and over time Cap has grown on me. He has got under my skin.

He was different to other heroes. He didn’t have an accident like Peter Parker to gain his powers. He wasn’t a multi billionaire philanthropist with a great eye for design like Tony Stark.

Steve Rogers was chosen. He was picked by the government to be injected with a super soldier serum that gave him his power.

He wasn’t picked because of his size, strength or intelligence.

He was picked because of his heart.

The verse from 1 Samuel  is taken from the story of David being selected as king of Israel. Samuel has walked down a line up of Jesse’s sons. The big, the strong, the potential warrior kings that could lead Israel to dominate their neighbours for years.

As Samuel walks the line and each is rejected by God to the point where there are no sons left. The story tells us they have to go and get David he wasn’t even considered worthy enough for the line up!

When David arrives God informs Samuel that this is the chosen one, the future king. The son who was rejected by his own family for the line up is selected.

Why David? The verse tells us it was because of his heart.

Steve Rogers couldn’t get drafted into the army, slipped in through the back door after countless rejections and ended up Captain America.

At one point in the First Avenger a grenade is thrown into a crowd of soldiers and Steve flings himself on top to protect those around him. While others run he puts other lives ahead of his own.

At this point the officers around him see the potential for a  true hero. In this moment Rogers is chosen. Not because of physical prowess, intelligence or size but because of his character.

He is chosen because of his heart and consequentially becomes the moral compass of the MCU.

In the Winter Soldier when actions are taken in the name of security and patriotism Cap stands against it because it invokes not protection but in his mind fear.

Captain America is not driven by a super serum but rather principle, ethics and the desire to do what is right.

In today’s world perhaps we need to re examine not what makes up popular, powerful or gains us status among peers. Perhaps we should instead check our hearts to see what condition it is in.

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.

 

Cinematic Justice & Kevin Costner

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Last night I was invited to introduce Cry the Beloved Country at Stormont Presbyterian church as part of their justice month. I’ll blog a little on Cry the Beloved Country later but first here is last night’s introduction  on how the justice we should strive for looks a lot like Kevin Costner.

What does cinematic justice look like?

Dare I suggest it looks like Kevin Costner but first a little bit of Deuteronomy & James. Deuteronomy is not many people’s go to for biblical quotes and inspirations around just but Deuteronomy 27:19 puts it bluntly for us:

“Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan and the widow of justice”

The biblical imperative is clear long before Jesus of how we are to act.

Some say that faith alone is enough for the Christian. The belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus is sufficient and will see us safely into the golden streets of heaven.

I’ve never liked that suggestion.

For me it makes Christianity nothing more than a box ticking exercise. Believe these simple steps and have your ticket punched into the grandest club house of them all.

I can’t believe that.

James 2 14-18 is the antidote to this school of thought an speaks of the value of work and says

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”

One if these works I believe, is the pursuit of justice and that brings me to Kevin Costner.

Costner has never played Jesus on screen but in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves he wasn’t that far away.

Have you ever considered how radical a story Robin Hood is?

King Richard has left for the Crusades and left his brother, John, in charge. John has none of his brother’s good intent and England very quickly descends into a land of greed and corruption with a structure that squeezes its people for all they have.

Taxes up and the value of people down and more scandalous all lords, authority and the church come on board.

One man thought rises up against this.

Robin sets himself in opposition to society, gathers a group of disciples and set about their radical mission. They attempt to redress the balance, taking from the rich giving to the poor, sheltering the infirm and protecting women.

Now you may think I’m stretching parallels and its important to say that I’m not suggesting that seeking justice means taking to the woods with mates, bows and arrows in hand and ambushing people in fancy cars. However when Jesus tell us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Robin Hood is no that far away from living this command out.

Ask yourself who is the more Christ like? The outlaw attempting to redress the balance; or the pious priests of the church collecting alms from the poor for the wealthy and refusing to be their advocate?

Robin Hood rises against a society that doesn’t work. Robin Hood takes action against a society that does not protect all of its citizens’ welfare and is no longer fit for purpose.

The question then needs to be asked of us. Are we any further on in 2016?

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

 

Belfast Film Festival 2016 review : Closet Monster (dir. Stephen Dunn)

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Closet Monster is a coming of age tale, with a dash of body horror and a talking hamster (voiced by Isabella Rosselini). That alone should give an indication of the originality of this film.

Oscar (Connor Jessup) is attempting to escape his dead beat town, discovering his sexuality and attempting to deal with the damage caused by the breakdown of his parent’s marriage. This Molotov cocktail of emotion and hormones is from the film’s early exchanges only set to end one way.

After witnessing a hate crime, at an early age, the struggle Oscar feels is partly brought on by his father who, although loving towards his son, advises him to get rid of his floppy long hair in case someone mistakes him as gay. The lasting impressions of this throw away comment and the event surrounding it have a profound and lasting effect on Oscar and the physical churning of his guts at various points provided a few interesting body horror moments that I was genuinely surprised and impressed by.

In his attempts to escape his town Oscar will also escape his father who as the film progresses becomes more monstrous is also an excellent depiction of families. The early moments of the film show a child in awe of his Dad but as he grows older Oscar is more aware of the flaws of his father.

Closet Monster is not a perfect film. The coming out of Oscar, while interesting, is never fully formed. The father son conflict we expect from this event never quite arrives. Plenty of build is given to allow this expected confrontation but it never quite lands bar a couple of brief encounters.

Aaron Abrahams in his role as Oscar’s father is clearly struggling with what he is learning about his son but this is never fully dealt with on screen. The monster we expect never fully arrives. Oscar sees himself as the monster of this piece and his internal wrestling is interesting to a point but it always felt as if he needed further antagonism from his father to fully flesh this out.

A great electronic soundtrack really helps to enhance party sequences and sexual encounters.

This voyage of discovery is interesting and impressive when compared to some of its cinematic kin. It is however not as fully formed and developed as it could be and this is what (for me) stops this film from being great.

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.